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Wendinger v. Forst Farms

June 10, 2003

GERALD WENDINGER, ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
FORST FARMS, INC., ET AL., RESPONDENTS, WAKEFIELD PORK, INC., RESPONDENT



Nicollet County District Court File No. C101440

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Hudson, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

I. A plaintiff states an actionable claim in nuisance by presenting evidence that the defendant has intentionally maintained a condition causing nuisance harm. A claim of private nuisance does not require proof that the nuisance harm resulted from a "wrongful" act except to the extent the plaintiff must prove fault on the part of the defendant.

II. Minn. Stat. § 561.19, subd. 2(a) (2002), does not impose an absolute two-year limitation on nuisance claims against agricultural operations.

III. Minn. Stat. § 561.19, subd. 2(b) (2002), does not provide agricultural operations an affirmative defense against nuisance claims based on compliance with "generally accepted agricultural practices."

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lansing, Judge

Affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded

OPINION

On cross-motions for summary judgment in a dispute involving allegations of nuisance, negligence, and trespass against a confined-animal feeding operation, the district court granted summary judgment for Jerome, Alma, and James Forst, Forst Farms, Inc., and Wakefield Pork, Inc. The district court did not decide the summary judgment motion of Gerald and Julie Wendinger on the issue of agency. The Wendingers appeal, and we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

FACTS

Julie and Gerald Wendinger own land in rural Nicollet County near a confined-animal feeding operation run by the Forst family (the Forsts), as Forst Farms, Inc. (Forst Farms). The Wendingers and Forsts are long-time residents of the area. The Forsts have farmed their land since the 1960s, and Gerald Wendinger was born on and farmed the Wendinger land until the 1970s. The Wendingers built a new home on that land in 1984.

In 1994, the Forsts entered into an agreement with Wakefield Pork, Inc., (Wakefield) under which the Forsts agreed to construct and operate a confined-animal feeding operation for housing and feeding pigs owned by Wakefield. The operation stores the liquid animal waste in a two-stage outdoor concrete manure lagoon from which it is pumped and spread on area fields each autumn. The Forsts had previously used a "scrape and haul" system with their livestock in which the waste and straw used in the stalls is hauled away in solid form. The new feeding facility was put into operation in 1994.

The manure lagoon was pumped out for the first time in the fall of 1995 and around that time the Wendingers complained about odors they believed to be emanating from the Forst operation. Between late 1995 and 2000, the Wendingers filed scores of further odor complaints with various state and local authorities. State and local environmental officials conducted a series of investigations in response to the complaints.

In the summer of 2001, the Wendingers sued the Forsts, Forst Farms, and Wakefield, stating claims in negligence, nuisance, and trespass and seeking injunctive and compensatory relief. The district court dismissed the trespass claim for failure to state a legally sufficient claim and dismissed the negligence and nuisance claims after granting summary judgment for the defendants. The court did not rule on the Wendingers' motion for summary judgment recognizing Wakefield's agency over the Forst Farms confined-feeding operation. The Wendingers now appeal.

ISSUES

I. Do invasive odors give rise to an action in trespass?

II. Must a plaintiff alleging nuisance prove that the nuisance harm is the ...


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