McKiver v. Murphy-Brown, LLC, No. 19-1019 (4th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, neighbors of Murphy-Brown's hog production facilities, filed suit against the company, seeking relief under state nuisance law from odors, pests, and noises they attribute to farming practices Murphy-Brown implemented at an industrial-scale hog feeding farm. On appeal, Murphy-Brown challenges a jury verdict against it awarding compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs.
As a preliminary matter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment rejecting Murphy-Brown's argument that Kinlaw Farms was a necessary and indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. Furthermore, the district court's decision as to the applicable statute of limitations was not legal error, and refusing to give the inapplicable jury instruction on continuing nuisances was not an abuse of discretion.
The court affirmed the jury's verdict as to liability for compensatory and punitive damages. The court rejected Murphy-Brown's contention that North Carolina private nuisance law bars recovery of compensatory damages of any kind pursuant to the 2017 Right to Farm Act amendment. Rather, the court concluded that the amendment represents a substantive, forward-looking change in the law, and affirmed the district court's conclusion that the issue of annoyance and discomfort damages should go to the jury based on longstanding North Carolina case law allowing such recovery in nuisance suits. The court also affirmed the district court's decisions as to the admission and exclusion of expert testimony, and the district court's jury instruction as to vicarious liability because the contested jury instruction did not prejudice Murphy-Brown. However, the court vacated the jury's judgment as to the amount of punitive damages and remanded for rehearing on the punitive damages issue without the parent company financial evidence, including executive compensation.