The Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion this morning reversing a Wapello County ruling that Iowa Code Section 657.11(2) was unconstitutional as applied to plaintiffs in a swine nuisance case. The result being that for a court to determine that Iowa Code Section 657.11(2) is unconstitutional in its application to a specific plaintiff, a district court must make a factual determination that such plaintiff: 1) received no particular benefit from the nuisance immunity granted to their neighbors other than that inuring to the public in general; 2) sustained significant hardship; and 3) resided on its property long before an animal operation was commenced on neighboring land.
While the result of this holding is that the defendants in the Wapello County case will have an opportunity to go back to the district court for a fact-based analysis applying the three-prong test noted above, industry insiders had hoped the Supreme Court would go further in its holding. In a concurring opinion, Justices Waterman and Mansfield stated that Gacke (the case from which the three-prong test noted above originates) was wrongly decided and the sole issue presented should have been whether the legislature, subject to the rational-basis test, can pass a law that affects a landowner’s ability to recover noneconomic nuisance damages. Justices Mansfield and Waterman also noted that all other states have passed statutes similar to Iowa’s 657.11(2) and other courts have uniformly rejected constitutional challenges to these statutes.
It is also important to note that today’s ruling has no impact on the cap on nuisance damages set forth in Iowa Code Section 657.11A signed into law by Governor Terry Branstad in 2017. If you have questions regarding today’s ruling, please reach out to Mike Blaser at (515) 242.2480 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Amy Johnson at (515) 242.2493 or email@example.com.