In Village of Black Earth v. Black Earth Meat Market, LLC, Nos. 2015AP912 & 2015AP913 (Wis. Ct. App. Mar. 17, 2016) (per curiam), the Court of Appeals considered the scope of Wisconsin’s Right-to-Farm law and its interaction with municipal authority.

Black Earth Meats operated a slaughterhouse and retail meat market business in the Village. As part of that operation, Black Earth Meats received routine delivery of animals from a third party. Between October 2013 and January 2014, the Village issued Black Earth Meats ten citations relating to delivery of those animals. These included: two citations for obstructing a street, two citations for street pollution, three citations for harboring noisy animals or fowl, one citation for idling an unattended vehicle, and two citations for permitting street obstruction.

In the municipal court, Black Earth Meats pled not guilty to all ten citations. The municipal court found Black Earth Meats was guilty of eight infractions, dismissing two citations—one for permitting street obstruction and one for harboring noisy animals or fowl.

Both parties sought review in the Circuit Court for Dane County. The Circuit Court granted summary judgment to Black Earth Meats and dismissed all of the citations. The Village appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of one citation for as idling an unattended vehicle, but reversed the dismissal of the other nine citations. In so doing, the Court of Appeals addressed two major issues.

First, Black Earth Meats argued that Wisconsin’s Right-to-Farm law precluded the Village from issuing the citations. That law affords certain protections to an “agricultural use” or “agricultural practice.” See WIS. STAT. § 823.08(3). The Court determined that it did not need to address whether Black Earth Meat’s operation constituted an “agricultural use” or “agricultural practice” as those terms are used in the statute because, in any event, the Right-to-Farm law does not protect against the Village’s forfeiture actions. As the court explains, the Right-to-Farm law concerns only nuisance actions to recover damages or abate a public nuisance. Here, the Village sought only to enforce its ordinances and impose forfeitures; it did not bring an action against Black Earth Meats to recover damages or to abate a public nuisance. Thus, the Court held that the Right-to-Farm law did not insulate Black Earth Meats from the Village’s enforcement of citations.

Second, Black Earth Meats argued that it was entitled to summary judgment with respect to some of the citations because it neither owned nor had custody of or have control over the vehicles giving rise to those citations. The Court concluded that the only reasonable inference from the record evidence was that Black Earth Meats did not have sufficient control over the delivery vehicle’s early arrival to the facility such that Black Earth Meats could be found to have parked or left the vehicle idling unattended. Thus, Black Earth Meats was entitled to summary judgment for the Idling Unattended Vehicle citation. However, with respect to the citations for permitting street obstruction, the Court concluded that the record evidence supported an inference that Black Earth Meats allowed the vehicles identified in those citations to obstruct the public street adjacent to its property.

Black Earth Meats and the Village now head back to the Circuit Court for proceedings on the remaining citations. Beyond the specific concerns of the litigants, this case is of interest because it appears to be the first appellate decision clarifying the scope of the Right-to-Farm law.

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