Since its enactment in 1981, the Michigan Right to Farm Act (RTFA) has provided protection to farmers against public and private nuisance claims. The RTFA provides that any activities that (1) meet the definition of “farm” or “farming operations” under the Act and (2) conform to generally accepted agricultural and management practices (GAAMPs), according to the policy established by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture, are protected activities, despite local zoning ordinances that would otherwise prohibit those same activities. The RTFA was adopted to provide a defense to farmers who were being sued in increasing numbers by residents of rural areas who were annoyed by the dust, odors, and noise associated with customary farming activities.
In an opinion just released for publication, the Michigan Court of Appeals offered a first-time interpretation of two issues related to the RTFA. See Lima Twp v Bateson, __ Mich App __; __NW2d __, (2013). The Court held that (1) the burden of proof falls on the party claiming the RTFA as an affirmative defense, and (2) the standard of proof must be met by a preponderance of the evidence.
The case began shortly after Ernest Bateson and his wife purchased 30 acres of land zoned AG-1 (agricultural) in Lima Township. After receiving numerous complaints about traffic and excavation, the township filed an action for injunctive relief alleging improper use of the property and improper storage of commercial vehicles, materials, and equipment on the property. The Batemans maintained they were preparing the property to develop a tree farm, while the township alleged they were using the property to conduct commercial business in violation of the township’s zoning ordinance, and that the activity was a nuisance. Although the Batemans argued that activities conducted on their property were protected under the RTFA, the trial court sided with the township and ordered the Batemans to “cease and desist” from the activities. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed and remanded the lower court’s decision, noting that summary disposition should not have been granted to either party because the court erred when it found conclusively that the Batesons’ activities were prohibited by the zoning ordinance and not protected under the RTFA.
Although the Court’s decision regarding the burden and standard of proof under the RTFA was a matter of first impression, perhaps more notable (and more interesting), was the Court’s reasoning in concluding that the trial court had erred when it found that the Batesons should not be protected under the RTFA. Citing from an earlier opinion, the Appellate Court noted that, although the RTFA refers to “commercial production” in its definition of both “farm” and “farming operation,” “there is no minimum level of sales that must be reached before the RTFA is applicable.”
This small statement may have a big impact on future cases that come before the Court. The facts of this case suggest that the Batesons had engaged in major excavation of their property while planting very few trees to “develop” their tree farm. Although the trier of fact could determine that the Batesons’ activities do not fall under the protection of the RTFA, it is no less significant that the Court of Appeals opined that they could. The Court’s opinion in this case seems to indicate that there is a very low threshold under the RTFA for “farm” or “farming operation” activities to be protected. Conversely, it would indicate that nearby residents must endure a lot of unpleasantries without legal recourse. While the RTFA does not give every Michigan resident the “right to farm” his property without regard to applicable zoning ordinances, this opinion suggests that the RTFA does not preclude protection to the very smallest of farming operations. Therefore, even farming operations with small “commercial production,” might be afforded protection under the RTFA.
View the entire Michigan Right to Farm Act at:
For more information about GAAMPs with regard to the Michigan Right to Farm Act, visit the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development website at:
News and blog articles presented in this website are distributed for general information purposes only with the understanding that the author, publisher and distributor of articles is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinions on specific facts or matters and, accordingly, GGTM assumes no liability whatsoever in connection with the use of any article. Pursuant to applicable rules of professional conduct, this communication may constitute Attorney Advertising.