On April 22, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a significant ruling from the Hendricks Superior Court reaffirming the protections afforded Indiana farmers under the Right to Farm Act (RTFA).

In October 2013, Samuel, Cory and Clinton Himsel, Danville residents and a second- and third-generation farming family, began operating a brand-new state-of-the-art hog farm.

The farm was built on land the family has been operating since the 1940s but up until 2013, had been used for crop farming.

When the Himsels decided to form 4/9 Livestock LLC, the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) required rezoning, several permits and approvals from Hendricks County and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The steps required several notices and public hearings before building began.

No appeal or challenge was brought at the time and Hendricks County granted the Himsels permission to operate the CAFO.

Fast forward two years and the Hoosier Environmental Council and its counsel, Kim Ferraro, filed a suit on behalf of neighbors to the farm, Richard and Janet Himsel and Robert and Susan Lannon.

The neighbors claimed the CAFO was causing a nuisance and produced an odor. They requested the 4/9 Livestock farm be shut down and the Himsels to pay monetary damages for an alleged decrease in the plaintiffs' property.

“The due process is important here,” said defense attorney Chris Braun. “(The Himsels) filed a petition for 58 acres to be rezoned, sent notices to neighbors; they go through plans for construction, subsequent hearings and two permit applications.”

Sam Himsel added, “This lawsuit was especially frustrating because we did everything by the book, obtained all of the necessary regulatory permits and operated our hog farm for two years without any violations. Despite our excellent track record, we got sued anyway.”

The Himsels partner with Co-Alliance to raise pigs year-round. The animals arrive as piglets and six months later Co-Alliance picks them up. Braun said it’s a steady stream of income throughout the year for the farmer and funds they are able to count on.

Co-Alliance was a co-defendant in the lawsuit.

At the late April court hearing, both the trial court and Court of Appeals held that even though the Himsel family farming operation changed from growing crops to raising livestock, there was no evidence of any negligent operation of the hog farm.

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision,” Clinton Himsel said. "It’s a great day for livestock producers in Indiana and across the nation. A huge burden has been lifted off of my family."

Kevin Still, president and CEO of Co-Alliance LLP, said, "The RTFA is important to Indiana’s agricultural economy and the protection of farmer's rights related to livestock agriculture. As a farmer-owned Indiana cooperative, we are very pleased that these important farming rights have been reaffirmed by the Indiana Court of Appeals decision."

Braun said many interested parties weighed in on the case.

"The importance and broad impact of this lawsuit was underscored with concern including Hendricks County, Indiana Bankers Association, Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation and Indiana Pork Producers Association," he said. “It’s attracted a lot of attention because this is the first case where the Court of Appeals has upheld the Right to Farm Act. They did everything right. Clinton, Cory and Sam are hard working farmers and did everything by the book.”

The purpose of the RTFA is to protect farmers from becoming the target of costly nuisance suits, requiring farmers to spend considerable time, energy and more to defend themselves.

“The Right to Farm Act is the government's way of saying they value the agricultural economy," Braun said. "As citizens continue to move outward, they don’t want to inhibit growth, but they want to protect farmers as well so the growth can’t impede that farm.”

Cory Himsel added, “This decision is great news for Indiana Farmers and livestock producers. It’s unfortunate that any farmer would have to endure the extensive demands of time and money and undergo the ongoing family stresses that a meritless lawsuit imposes on you. I am thankful for the Indiana courts and that justice prevailed.”

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