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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ind. Decisions - Stickdorn case "settles" ... [Updated 10/4/13] [Updated again on 10/4/13]

Here is an ILB post from nearly two years ago, Nov. 28, 2011:

In Eric Stickdorn and Lisa Stickdorn v. Elam B. Zook, Sarah F. Zook, Samuel L. Lantz and Mattie Z. Lantz, a 19-page opinion addressing significant issues of environmental law, Judge Baker writes:
Two neighboring farmers were conducting business near Cambridge City in Wayne County. The defendants built their dairy in 2003 that included a milking parlor about fifteen feet from the plaintiffs’ house. When the defendants emptied a manure pit on the farm in early 2004, the stench of rotten eggs and raw sewage permeated the plaintiffs’ home. The plaintiffs became physically ill, and a stream that crossed their property became polluted. The defendants repeatedly and continuously emptied the manure pit at various times over the next several years until April 2005, when they sold their farm. Because the plaintiffs did not file their cause of action for negligence, trespass, and nuisance until 2009, the defendants are entitled to summary judgment with regard to the negligence and personal injury claims. However, the nuisance and trespass actions survive.

Appellants-plaintiffs Eric and Lisa Stickdorn (the Stickdorns) appeal the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the appellees-defendants Samuel and Mattie Lantz (collectively, the Lantzes), regarding the counts of negligence, trespass, and nuisance, that they filed against the Lantzes. The Stickdorns argue that the trial court erred in determining that either the two-year or six-year statutes of limitations barred all of their claims.

We conclude that the trial court properly determined that the Stickdorns’ personal injury claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations. However, we reverse the grant of summary judgment for the Lantzes’ with regard to the nuisance and trespass counts. Thus, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings with respect to the trespass and nuisance counts.

ILB: Worth watching is the Nov. 1, 2011 oral argument before the COA panel.
A check of the appellate docket this morning for the status of the case (89A01-1012-CT-00670) shows that the opinion was certified on Jan. 10, 2012, and no further activity is shown.

This morning the ILB received this news release from the Hoosier Environmental Council that the case had been settled:

After Setting Positive Legal Precedent for Protection of Small Family Farms, Famed Stickdorn Case Settles, Allowing Long-Suffering Couple to Return Home

(Cambridge City, IN)- In November of 2011, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Eric and Lisa Stickdorn, small family farmers in Cambridge City, [a town sixty miles east of Indianapolis]. The decision paves the way for Indiana’s small family farmers to protect their health and property from the nearly constant pollution exposure that can result from an industrial-scale livestock facility moving in and operating nearby. Now, the Stickdorn case has settled, ending the Stickdorns’ decade-long struggle to protect their home, their 120-acre farm, and their way of life.

The case began in 2003, when a confined feeding operation (CFO) was constructed and began operations less than 600 feet from the Stickdorns' home. Thereafter, the CFO's owners repeatedly took actions that created noxious odors, toxic waste spillage, and water pollution -- pollution so extreme that it rendered the Stickdorns' well-water undrinkable, and streams unfit for their cattle to drink. Conditions became so miserable for the Stickdorns that they began sleeping in the basement of their church, at the home of friends, at a campsite, and ultimately, within a year, in 2004 – within a year of the CFO beginning operations -- they were forced to move from their own home into an apartment. For the next nine years, the Stickdorns returned to their property only to care for their own animals, continuing to live, essentially, as refugees from their own home. While the details of the settlement are confidential, the polluting CFO is now closed and the Stickdorns recently moved back home.

“This settlement is a huge victory for Indiana’s small farmers,” said Kim Ferraro, staff attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council who represented the Stickdorns. “People like the Stickdorns, who suffered for 10 years before getting justice, face a huge uphill battle when trying to protect their property rights. [And more fundamentally, they face an uphill battle in defending] their right to clean air and clean water when those rights are violated by a nearby polluting industrial livestock operation."

To make matters worse, during the most recent session of the Indiana General Assembly, lobbyists for corporate agri-business attempted to cut off the rights of small family farmers like the Stickdorns. They successfully convinced some state legislators to introduce bills that would, among other things, prevent an Indiana trial court from awarding damages or other relief to people, like the Stickdorns, who successfully demonstrate that they are being harmed by a neighboring CAFO. Additionally, such agribusiness lobbyists attempted to amend the Indiana State Constitution to give CAFO operators even more special legal protection by creating a fundamental right to commercially produce meat, poultry and dairy products. If allowed, the amendment would have made it nearly impossible for local or state agencies to enforce existing environmental and public health safeguards or to enact new ones. It would have also dramatically weakened the ability of rural Hoosiers to protect their homes and families from giant livestock factories that exist in every region of the state.

“What I hope people take away from our experience is that we do have a Constitutional right to the free use and enjoyment of our properties upon which we live and pay taxes, but until all citizens petition their legislators, or vote for new ones, these unfortunate conditions will continue to plague Indiana,” said Eric Stickdorn.

[Updated 10/4/13] See also this WISHTV8 story by Karen Hensel, headed "Constitutional amendment worries CAFO opponents"

[Updated again on 10/4/13] The ILB has obtained more information about the settlement.

After the Stickdorns prevailed in the appellate court and the case was remanded, they obtained a default judgment against the Lantzs for roughly $150K and ultimately reached a settlement of the entire case -- part of the settlement that can be disclosed involved closing the CFO and transferring the property to the Stickdorns.

More specifically, the Stickdorns first reached a settlement with the Zooks and subsequently, in Sept., with the Lantzs. The settlement with the Zooks closed the CFO and transferred most of the property to the Stickdorns. The settlement with the Lantzs transferred the remainder of the property.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 3, 2013 09:09 AM
Posted to Environment | Ind. App.Ct. Decisions