Ron Finck Successfully Defends Right To Farm Case

A case was brought in the court of Common Pleas of the 17th Judicial District of Pennsylvania. The case involved a lawsuit brought by the Plaintiffs William and Barbara Remaley against the Defendants the Zooks for the construction of a poultry barn across the road from the Plaintiffs' property. The Plaintiffs contended that the Defendants' operation generated odors that, at certain times of the year, interfered significantly with the Plaintiffs' use and enjoyment of their property.

The facts of the case are that the Defendants applied for a building permit from the Structure Permit Officer of Middlecreek Township and the building permit application was approved. Subsequently, the poultry barn was constructed by Ag Depot, which had extensive experience in the construction of poultry barns in and around Snyder and surrounding counties. Incorporated into the poultry barn design were large fans that provide necessary ventilation for the poultry.

From the inception of planning for the barn, the Plaintiffs expressed concerns about the location of the exhaust fans on the south side of the property facing their home. Plaintiff William Remaley spoke to Defendant Leander Zook, before the barn was built, about his concern about the location of the ventilation fans.

Defendant Leander Zook explained to the Plaintiffs that another location was not feasible for a variety of reasons, including: (1) complying with the request from Penn Township to move the poultry barn 90 feet to the west; (2) the cost of running and maintaining utilities to another portion of The Defendants' property, (3) satisfying the requirements of their poultry contract which required the Defendants to provide access for delivery trucks for the delivery and pick-up of the poultry; (4) the undesirability of having the fans and the access way on the same side of the building; and (5) the limitations imposed by the natural terrain of The Defendants' property.

Construction of the poultry barn was completed and went into operation that same month. Approximately three months after the poultry barn went into operation, the Plaintiffs initiated a lawsuit with a Writ of Summons.

In their lawsuit the Plaintiffs request the relocation of the exhaust fans from the south to the north side of the poultry barn; placement of appropriate barriers (vegetative and / or other) to negate the impacts of the poultry barn from Plaintiffs' perspective; enclosure of the eastern end of the poultry barn containing the storage area and moving the "chicken run" to the north side of the building.

In addition, the Plaintiffs sought an amount in excess of the limits of compulsory arbitration as compensation for the devaluation caused to the fair market value of Plaintiffs' property by the location and configuration of the poultry barn.

The Plaintiffs' complained that odors from the barn restricted their outdoor activities including: gardening, entertaining and sitting on their porch, as well as their ability to keep their windows open for ventilation throughout their home.

Judge, Louise O. Knight handed down a decision in favor of the defendant citing that:

  • The Plaintiffs did not present any objective testimony from any other person to show that a reasonable person in their community would be affected in the manner that the Plaintiffs claim they have been affected by the Defendants' operation of their poultry business.
  • The declared policy of the Pennsylvania Right to Farm Act is to conserve, protect and encourage the development of agricultural land for the production of food and other agricultural products.
  • No other neighbor found the Defendants' poultry facility offensive, seriously annoying, or intolerable. To the contrary, the other neighbors were generally supportive of the Defendants' poultry facility.
  • The Plaintiffs presented no expert testimony explaining the precise cause of the odors they experienced, nor any expert testimony to support their view that relocation of the fans from the north side to the south side of the poultry building would eliminate the odor problem.
  • There was no evidence that the Defendants' business was being improperly conducted. To the contrary, the evidence supports the conclusion that the Defendants' poultry business was operating by the highest applicable agricultural standards.
  • The fact that Middlecreek Township is unzoned means that the Plaintiffs must accept certain risks of development that are incompatible with their residential use.

In the decision for the defendant, Judge Knight wrote, "Unfortunately for the Plaintiffs, the reality is that they built their house right in the middle of Pennsylvania farmland, in a community where there is no zoning, and where the risk of livestock farming clashing with their personal interests is likely. We can find no fault with the way in which the Defendants are conducting their poultry operation. In fact, the evidence showed that the Defendants are very conscientious poultry farmers. Moreover, there was no evidence that the principal remedy which the Plaintiffs seek, the moving of the ventilation fans to the north side of the barn, would help in any way to alleviate any of the odors they are complaining about. The evidence was unclear as to what would remedy the odor problem for the Plaintiffs or even is causing the odors to travel to their property."

Subsequently, the Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Post-Trial Relief. The Court filed an order denying the motion stating, "For the reasons stated we must conclude that our decision in this case was fully supported by competent evidence, that our decision was neither against the weight of the evidence nor unsupported by substantial evidence, and that we made no error of law."


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