Marsh v. Sandstone N., LLC, NO. 4-19-0314

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Citation2020 IL App (4th) 190314
PartiesALVIN F. MARSH; BEVERLY MARSH; MARSH ENTERPRISES, d/b/a Sand Burr Farms; ALVIN F. MARSH TRUST; HENRY LIKES; MAXINE LIKES; GARY WESTERMEYER; TERESA WESTERMEYER; FRED BARNETT; ROBERTA BARNETT; JIMMIE GREGORY; and MARCELLA GREGORY, Plaintiffs-Appellants and Cross-Appellees, v. SANDSTONE NORTH, LLC; SANDSTONE SOUTH, LLC; HOLLIS SHAFER; GENESIS PORK, LLC; and ILLINI PORK, LLC, Defendants-Appellees and Cross-Appellants.
Docket NumberNO. 4-19-0314
Decision Date09 September 2020

2020 IL App (4th) 190314

ALVIN F. MARSH; BEVERLY MARSH; MARSH ENTERPRISES, d/b/a Sand Burr Farms;
ALVIN F. MARSH TRUST; HENRY LIKES; MAXINE LIKES; GARY WESTERMEYER;
TERESA WESTERMEYER; FRED BARNETT; ROBERTA BARNETT; JIMMIE GREGORY;
and MARCELLA GREGORY, Plaintiffs-Appellants and Cross-Appellees,
v.
SANDSTONE NORTH, LLC; SANDSTONE SOUTH, LLC; HOLLIS SHAFER; GENESIS PORK, LLC;
and ILLINI PORK, LLC, Defendants-Appellees and Cross-Appellants.

NO. 4-19-0314

APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS FOURTH DISTRICT

September 9, 2020


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Scott County
No. 10L3

Honorable David R. Cherry, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Presiding Justice Steigmann and Justice Holder White concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiffs—Alvin F. and Beverly Marsh, Marsh Enterprises, d/b/a Sand Burr Farms, Alvin F. Marsh Trust, Henry and Maxine Likes, Gary and Teresa Westermeyer, Fred and Roberta Barnett, and Jimmie and Marcella Gregory—brought a "private temporary nuisance action" against defendants—Sandstone North, LLC, Sandstone South LLC, Hollis Shafer, Genesis Pork, LLC, and Illini Pork, LLC—alleging defendants' hog farming operations created foul and obnoxious odors that interfered with plaintiffs' use and enjoyment of their neighboring properties.

Page 2

On May 24, 2016, a jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants. Plaintiffs appeal, arguing the trial court erred by (1) denying their motion for a new trial based on "juror misconduct," (2) declining to instruct the jury pursuant to Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 5.01 (approved Dec. 8, 2011) (hereinafter IPI Civil No. 5.01), and (3) instructing the jury using three non-IPI instructions submitted by defendants. Defendants cross-appeal, arguing the court erred by denying their request for reasonable attorney fees made pursuant to section 4.5 of the Farm Nuisance Suit Act (Act) (740 ILCS 70/4.5 (West 2014)). We reverse the court's denial of defendants' motion for reasonable attorney fees and remand with directions that the court grant the motion and enter an appropriate fee award. We otherwise affirm the court's judgment.

¶ 1 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 2 Plaintiffs reside on and/or own property near defendants' hog farming operations in Scott County, Illinois. In June 2010, they initiated the underlying cause of action against defendants and, in August 2011, filed a second amended complaint. Plaintiffs identified the case as "a private temporary nuisance action" and alleged that "[o]ffensive and noxious odors frequently emanate[d] from [d]efendants' swine facilities," impairing their "ability to use and enjoy their property" and causing "substantial damage to [their] quality of life."

¶ 3 In their second amended complaint, plaintiffs alleged defendants raised approximately 7500 hogs at their Scott County facilities. They maintained that defendants' "swine factories [were] negligently and grossly mismanaged," in that defendants "intentionally disregard[ed] their duties and responsibilities" with respect to the handling and storage of animal waste and the disposal of dead hogs. They also alleged that defendants' "swine factories" were negligently constructed.

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¶ 4 On March 24, 2014, a jury trial began in the matter. However, the trial court declared a mistrial after finding that "activists" had passed out literature on concentrated animal feeding operations in the courtroom after proceedings had commenced. On May 2, 2016, a second jury trial began. On May 24, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants.

¶ 5 On December 9, 2016, plaintiffs filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. Relevant to this appeal, they sought a new trial on the following grounds: (1) the trial court erred by instructing the jury with several nonpattern instructions proposed by defendants, which they argued were confusing, misleading, or presented incorrect statements of law (instructions 12, 13, 17, and 19); (2) the court erred by denying their request for an adverse-inference instruction based on IPI Civil No. 5.01 because defendants "undertook a massive cleanup effort of [their] facilities" prior to a site visit by plaintiffs' experts; and (3) juror misconduct. As to the last claim, plaintiffs asserted that posttrial Facebook postings by juror Kelly Howard demonstrated that she "was biased" against plaintiffs and had "pre-judged the case." On April 22, 2019, the court denied plaintiffs' motion.

¶ 6 The record also reflects that on June 16, 2016, defendants filed a motion for costs, expenses, and reasonable attorney fees they incurred in successfully defending plaintiffs' claims against them pursuant to section 4.5 of the Act. 740 ILCS 70/4.5 (West 2014). On May 6, 2019, the trial court entered an order denying the motion. In setting forth its ruling, the court made the following findings:

"1. The *** Act in its Purpose clause declares 'When nonagricultural land uses extend into agricultural areas, farms often become the subject of nuisance suits.' The case at bar does not pit non-agricultural interests against agricultural

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interests. The record reflects that all of the parties in this action, both Plaintiffs and Defendants, are all farmers engaged in agricultural pursuits. As such, this fact situation does not come within the protection of the *** Act for the [d]efendants.

2. The suit by the Plaintiffs was to recover damages suffered as a result of the alleged negligent operation of an agricultural pursuit. The Jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants, finding that the Defendants were not negligent in the operation of their facility.

3. Section 3 of the said *** Act specifically acknowledges the exemption of application of the [A]ct to actions alleging negligent or improper operation of any farm.

4. The Defendant[s] having prevailed in *** such a negligence action cannot avail themselves of Section 4.5 of the said *** Act when that [A]ct does not apply to the issues that were submitted to the trier of fact."

¶ 7 This appeal and cross-appeal followed.

¶ 8 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 9 On appeal, plaintiffs argue they are entitled to a new trial based upon juror misconduct and the trial court's failure to properly instruct the jury. Defendants cross-appeal, asserting the court erred by denying their motion for costs, expenses, and reasonable attorney fees associated with defending themselves in the underlying litigation brought pursuant to section 4.5 of the Act. We note amicus curiae briefs in support of defendants' cross-appeal have been filed by both the Illinois Agricultural Association, a/k/a the Illinois Farm Bureau, and the Illinois Pork Producers Association. On review, we address each appeal and argument in turn.

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¶ 10 A. Plaintiffs' Appeal
¶ 11 1. Juror Misconduct

¶ 12 On appeal, plaintiffs first argue they are entitled to a new trial based on "juror misconduct." Specifically, they assert that juror Howard's posttrial Facebook posts showed she lied during voir dire and was biased against them.

¶ 13 The record shows that during voir dire, Howard stated that she did not know anything about the case but was familiar with "the names" of two plaintiffs—Henry and Maxine Likes. She denied that knowing those plaintiffs' names would influence her and asserted she could be a fair and impartial juror. As a juror, she would base her decision on the evidence and not on sympathy for either side or bias or prejudice for or against any party. Howard represented that she would listen carefully to the evidence before making a decision and follow the written instructions provided by the judge. She denied having any concerns about "anything in [her] life" if she had to spend two or three weeks as a juror. Further, Howard reported that she grew up on a farm. She also acknowledged having a Facebook account but denied posting any "personal stuff" on Facebook, explaining as follows: "I like [to] post birthday wishes to my friends. I mean, I look at pictures. I don't post stuff on there."

¶ 14 In their posttrial motion, plaintiffs raised the issue of juror misconduct by Howard and attached to their motion copies of Facebook postings Howard purportedly made after the trial. According to plaintiffs, Howard's initial posting stated as follows:

"SOME PEOPLE AMAZE ME!!!! For the last 3 weeks (22 days to be exact) I along with 13 other people had to put our lives on hold—missing vacations graduations and work as well as not being able to read the newspaper or listen to

Page 6

local news to do our civic duty of being a juror for a trial of hog s*** and odor from a hog business in rural Scott County that supposedly affected the lives of 10 people that lived in the vicinity of the business. Seriously[,] like the owner of that business had control over the way the wind blew or how hot the weather got. The trial concluded today and not to the liking of the 10 people that filed the suit. The more money some people have the more they think they can do whatever they want to ruin other people. Not the outcome in this case. Thinking they should not have put a person on this jury that was raised on a farm in the country (just my opinion though). Rant over."

Plaintiffs also pointed out that after another individual commented "[w]ow" in response to Howard's post, Howard responded to the individual, stating the following: "That's what I said for three weeks ***. It is unbelievable what some people will do these days."

¶ 15 Plaintiffs argue the Facebook posts show Howard displayed sympathy for farmers, had knowledge about plaintiffs' wealth or income beyond what was shown at trial, and discussed the case while the trial was ongoing. They claim her postings establish that she made untrue statements during voir dire, including that she (1) had no concerns about the effect of a two to three week trial on her life, (2) could be fair and impartial, (3) had no relationship with the plaintiffs and was not...

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