Odors/Widespread Legislation Torts: Federal District Court docket Addresses Animal Waste Rendering Facility’s Movement to Dismiss | Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, P.L.L.C.

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A United States District Court (D. New Jersey) (the “Court”) issued a statement on Aug. 25, investigating issues arising from a class action lawsuit alleged against Darling Ingredients, Inc. (“DII”) , Newark, New Jersey, Darling Facility:

. . . grinds and heats animal waste to produce sebum, protein and flour by-products, and heats and refines used cooking oil to produce feed-grade yellow and animal fat.

See Sines et al., V. Darling Ingredients, Inc., 2020 WL5015488.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against DII for allegedly emitting “noxious odors” on the properties of plaintiffs and alleged class members (collectively, “plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs are said to reside within 1.75 miles of the Darling Facility.

Plaintiffs alleged that they have experienced (and continue to experience) physical discomfort and damage to the rights of their properties as a result of the Darling Facility emitting harmful odors on their properties.

Plaintiffs alleged that odors caused:

  • Physical complaints (including nausea, eye and nose irritation, and headache)
  • Inability to open windows, go for a walk, or use outdoor spaces
  • Decreased property values

The plaintiffs brought an action in which they relied on the following pleas in law:

  1. Public nuisance
  2. Private harassment
  3. negligence
  4. Gross negligence
  5. Transgression

DII filed a motion for rejection.

The Court of Justice denied the request for rejection, addressing the following pleas in law:

  1. Public Harassment – The defendants argued that plaintiffs represent thousands of property owners (who make up the entire community) in the vicinity of the Darling Facility. As a result, DII argued that there was no authority to bring a private public harassment lawsuit because the plaintiffs did not represent the general public.

The court disagreed with the finding that the plaintiffs represent a large portion of the community in the vicinity of the Darling Facility, which prevents them from bringing a public molestation suit. Just because there are areas of property in the classroom that have suffered a violation of their property interest (and different from the violation of the general public) does not preclude a right to unpolluted air.

The court finds that the plaintiffs have reasonably asserted particular damage and are entitled to bring a public action lawsuit. In addition, it rejects DII’s argument that the right to public harassment is excluded as the Darling Facility is already heavily regulated by the state. The Court also rejects the argument that the public harassment action should be dismissed as a duplicate action for negligence.

  1. Private Harassment – DII argues that the alleged harm for plaintiffs was too widespread to be considered actionable, like private harassment. In other words, it is argued that private harassment measures are only available to a limited number of people who they claim are:

. . . The defendant’s conduct affected his interests in a neighboring or bordering country.

The Court disagrees that such an action can be brought even if it is large enough to constitute a public nuisance. In addition, the real estate does not have to be directly adjacent to the Darling Facility.

The Court also rejects DII’s allegation that private harassment has not been adequately relied on. It is said that DII was allegedly aware of the harmful smell emissions as well as public complaints and permit violations. Since DII allegedly did not act appropriately (i.e., took odor control measures), this was sufficient to raise the claim above speculative levels.

  1. Negligence – DII contended that plaintiffs had not adequately enforced the existence of a duty. This was assumed because the class members were too far from the Darling Facility.

The court rejects this claim, ruling that the distance between plaintiffs’ property and the Darling Facility is not mandatory in terms of due diligence. The Court notes that the risk of the alleged noxious odors is alleged to be great and extensive and can adversely affect the health and safety of the plaintiffs. It goes on to say that DII allegedly had the ability to control and limit emissions of noxious odors and took no action.

The court found that the plaintiff’s allegations brought the negligence action above speculative levels.

  1. Gross negligence – The Court notes that gross negligence and negligence claims consist of the same elements, including:
  • mandatory
  • fracture
  • root cause
  • injury

The difference is in degree rather than quality, which requires evidence of willful or reckless disregard for the safety of others.

DII asserts that the claim to gross negligence has no objective support. The Court rejects this argument on the grounds that DII’s alleged knowledge of the harm caused by odor emissions and permission to injure, as well as the alleged apparent inaction, raised the allegation of a speculative level.

  1. Infraction – The Court notes that infraction is unauthorized access to someone else’s property and involves two elements:
  • Entering someone else’s property
  • Entry is not authorized

DII contends that this plea is unfeasible because pollution-related claims for abuse in the district have been denied.

The Court distinguishes the cited cases which are found to be common law pollution claims in pollution cases in which the plaintiff has made an alternative claim under a strict liability law to regulate pollution.

The plaintiffs are said not to have done so in this case, which is why the court rejects this argument. It also rejects the argument that the unauthorized entry into the plaintiffs’ property was intangible (arguing smells are intangible). Odors are considered to be classified into a tangible matter and this argument is also rejected.

A copy of the statement can be downloaded here.

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