It is a well-known fact that a single 1,000 pound horse will produce about 10 tons of manure each year. Can a nearby landowner bring a lawsuit seeking to close a horse facility or curtail its operations simply due to the smell of manure or some other reason? Yes. In bringing such a lawsuit, the party must prove that the facility was kept or maintained in a manner as to create a nuisance that improperly interfered with the use and enjoyment of his property. Nuisance lawsuits occur rather infrequently. However, the “urban sprawl” over the years has turned riding trails into residential real estate developments. Too many people, it seems, move to these areas specifically for a more rural way of life; yet, they do not like horses or understand how to maintain them. This creates the setting where nuisance lawsuits could potentially crop up.

What is a “Nuisance”? 
Nuisance is broadly defined as any activity that arises from unreasonable, unwarranted or unlawful use by a person of his own property which produces a material annoyance, inconvenience, or discomfort to another nearby landowner or to the public. Over the years, people have brought nuisance lawsuits to attack horse facilities for circumstances ranging from offensive odors and intolerable noises to unsightliness or filth. The parties who bring these types of lawsuits can be one nearby landowner (who may assert a “private nuisance” claim) and/or an indefinite number of persons such as residents of a subdivision (who may assert a “public nuisance” claim).
Nuisance is broadly defined as any activity that arises from unreasonable, unwarranted or unlawful use by a person of his own property which produces a material annoyance, inconvenience, or discomfort to another nearby landowner or to the public. Over the years, people have brought nuisance lawsuits to attack horse facilities for circumstances ranging from offensive odors and intolerable noises to unsightliness or filth. The parties who bring these types of lawsuits can be one nearby landowner (who may assert a “private nuisance” claim) and/or an indefinite number of persons such as residents of a subdivision (who may assert a “public nuisance” claim).

Regardless of the circumstances challenged by the complaining party [the “plaintiff”], a nuisance lawsuit will not succeed in most jurisdictions unless that party can prove that the nuisance: arose from a condition in which the nearby property was used in a wrongful or unreasonable manner or place (as one court put it: “a nuisance may be merely a right thing in the wrong place, like a pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard”); caused substantial injury to the plaintiff or his property; or, materially interfered with the use and enjoyment of the plaintiff’s property.

Defending a nuisance lawsuit can be difficult for horse facilities, and some of the most obvious defenses may not always work. For example, the defense that the plaintiff willingly exposed himself to the nuisance conditions or came into the nuisance by moving to the area has proven unsuccessful over the years.

Resolving a Nuisance 
If the plaintiff has successfully proven that the horse facility is a nuisance, the next issue will be how to remove or “abate” it. In very rare and extreme cases, courts have abated the nuisance by terminating the horse facility’s operations altogether. 80 years ago, a court shut down the operations of a breeding farm after residents of a nearby residential area complained that the stable, particularly as horses were bred, generated offensive noises and sights. That court also took into account that the breeding activities occurred in plain view of children who resided in the area.
If the plaintiff has successfully proven that the horse facility is a nuisance, the next issue will be how to remove or “abate” it. In very rare and extreme cases, courts have abated the nuisance by terminating the horse facility’s operations altogether. 80 years ago, a court shut down the operations of a breeding farm after residents of a nearby residential area complained that the stable, particularly as horses were bred, generated offensive noises and sights. That court also took into account that the breeding activities occurred in plain view of children who resided in the area.

The more frequent remedy courts apply is to somehow accommodate the interests of all parties involved. Courts may, for example, order facilities harboring a nuisance to actively eliminate the odors, alter their facilities, or reduce the number of horses on the property. Only in a very small number of cases nationwide have horse facilities have been ordered to pay money damages to the party who has won a nuisance case.

Conclusion
If you suspect that your facility may become a target of a nuisance lawsuit, or if you believe you have grounds to bring one, keep the following ideas in mind:

  • A general feeling of dislike or discomfort created by the use of nearby land may not be enough to present a successful nuisance lawsuit. Rather, courts generally look to a land use that “unreasonably interferes” with the interests of a nearby landowner in the use and enjoyment of his or her land. Also, courts tend to examine nuisance cases from the sensitivities and sensibilities of a “reasonable person.”
  • Since (depending on the severity of the alleged nuisance), courts will inevitably try to resolve the matter through a compromise, the parties should consider attempting to resolve the matter between themselves. The middle ground the parties reach on their own might be more practical than one ordered by a judge who does not understand horses.
  • The facility’s best protection from nuisance claims or from a municipality’s attempt to create new zoning ordinances unfavorable to horses might simply be good stable management and basic common sense. In an article published in 1992, this author offered horse owners and horse facilities several practical suggestions.
  • Every nuisance dispute is unique. Parties on both sides of the issue should seek the advice of a knowledgeable attorney when questions arise based on specific situations.

Julie I. Fershtman, Esq.
About the Author

Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC
One Northwestern Plaza
28411 Northwestern Hwy., Ste. 500
Southfield, Michigan  48034

jfershtman@fosterswift.com 

www.equinelawblog.com | www.equinelaw.net

The “Nuisance” that Could Permanently Close a Horse Facility

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