Court says Fla must pork over $500k for pregnant pig amendment
News Service of Florida:
An appeals court Wednesday sided with a north Florida farmer who was awarded more than $500,000 in a lawsuit against the state because a 2002 "pregnant pig" constitutional amendment caused losses to his business.
The 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a Jackson County circuit judge's ruling in favor of Stephen. D. Basford, who reportedly was one of only two Florida farmers who used a controversial pig-farming technique that was banned by the constitutional amendment.
Basford in 2010 filed what is known as an "inverse condemnation" lawsuit, seeking compensation for improvements he had made to his farm for the pork operation.
Wednesday's opinion said Basford's operation "depended on raising a high volume of pigs for market, and his improvements were designed for that purpose." Basford shut down the operation in 2003 after voters approved the constitutional amendment to ban the use of gestation crates, which prevent pregnant pigs from turning around freely and have been targeted nationally by animal-rights groups.
Jackson County Circuit Judge John L. Fishel awarded $505,000 and interest to Basford, whose improvements for the pork operation included barns that could not be used for other purposes, a feed mill and water wells. The state appealed, at least in part arguing that pig production was only a part of Basford's farm, which also grows crops.
Appeals court Chief Judge Joseph Lewis and Judge James Wolf, who were in the majority Wednesday, emphasized that the decision was narrowly tailored to the issues in the Basford case.
Lewis wrote that the trial judge accepted Basford's "testimony that his barns could not be used for any purpose other than raising pigs and that the wells and feed mill had no other practical purpose or use. The state offered no evidence below to refute (Basford's) testimony on alternative uses of the improvements. Nor has it argued on appeal that the improvements had any other purpose" or that Basford could have converted to another type of pig-raising operation.
But Judge Philip Padovano, who dissented, wrote that the pig-raising operation needed to be considered in the broader context of the farm.
"I acknowledge that the plaintiff’s breeding barn was uniquely designed to house pigs in gestation crates and that it was rendered useless after the passage of (the 2002 amendment),'' Padovano wrote. "However, the breeding barn was only a small part of the plaintiff’s real property. In fact, the plaintiff’s entire pork production operation took place on only four acres of his three hundred and eighteen acre farm. The loss of the barn may have diminished the value of the farm but that is not enough to support a 'taking' claim."