An environmental group is challenging the constitutionality of Indiana's right-to-farm laws on behalf of two rural families who say the stench wafting from a large hog farm west of Indianapolis is making their homes unlivable.
Hoosier Environmental Council attorney Kim Ferraro said the civil lawsuit was mailed Tuesday to Hendricks County Superior Court, and a clerk's office spokeswoman said it was received Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges that a Danville farm called 4/9 Livestock LLC, which houses up to 8,000 hogs, has made the plaintiffs' homes "at times unlivable" since it opened in 2013. It also says odors, gases and dust released by the roughly 38,000 gallons of manure it produces daily have harmed property values.
"No one wants to buy our property because of the smell, so we can't even move away — we're prisoners in our own home," Richard Himsel, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. He said the odors from the farm, which is about a quarter-mile away, are so bad his wife has gone to live with their daughter because she "can't take it anymore."
The suit also names Co-Alliance LLP, which owns the farm's hogs, and three individuals who own and operate the farm.
All 50 states have enacted right-to-farm laws, according to the National Agricultural Law Center. Indiana has two, one of which was passed in 2014 and protects Indiana farmers' rights to use "generally accepted" production practices, including "the use of ever-changing technology."
The suit alleges the 2014 law gives farms legal immunity and favors their production practices "regardless of the harm those practices cause." The plaintiffs also argue the state's laws amount to "an unconstitutional taking of their property rights."
Indiana's environmental rules only regulate water discharges from industrial-scale livestock farms, not odors and air emissions, which Ferraro said is "fundamentally unfair."
"They have no government agency to turn to because the laws are not written to protect them," said Ferraro, who is the council's water and agriculture policy director.
Co-Alliance said in a statement that the farmer-owned partnership had not been served with a copy of the suit as of Wednesday and "will reserve further comment" until it evaluates the complaint. A number for 4/9 Livestock's registered agent, Cory Himsel, a distant cousin of Richard Himsel, was disconnected.
However, the Indiana Farm Bureau said that the lawsuit's contentions are "completely unfounded." The 2014 law "simply states that existing laws should be construed to allow any farmer to use generally accepted farming practices," according to Jay Wood, a spokesman for the state's largest farmers' advocacy group.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and a court injunction to compel the farm's owners to lessen the smells and dust that reach the plaintiff's properties.