Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Biosolids Recycling by Farmers

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Biosolids Recycling by Farmers

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that biosolids recycling and application is protected by the state Right to Farm Act (RTFA), while stating that only a judge could decide on the act, not a jury as a lower court had ruled.

The court sided with defendant Synagro Technologies Inc., Baltimore, and resolved the question of the use of biosolids as a fertilizer on farms, according to an e-mail from Jimmy Slaughter, counsel for Synagro.

The suit centered on farming operations in Pennsyvlvania’s York County. Neighboring landowners complained about odors coming from farmers’ use of biosolids, and filed a lawsuit against the farmers and the municipal biosolids contractor in 2008, alleging that the biosolids constituted a nuisance and trespass. The trial court dismissed the case in 2012 because the plaintiffs did not file suit until more than a year after the biosolids were applied. A divided Superior Court reversed that ruling in April 2014, determining that a jury would have to decide whether using biosolids on a farm regarding a state permit was entitled to protection under the act.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last October.

In its ruling the Supreme Court determined that the RTFA, like any statute of repose, is jurisdictional and thus, its “applicability is a question for the trial court, not the jury.” 

Slaughter said the decision confirmed that biosolids application is a normal agricultural operation entitled to RTFA protection from “burdensome litigation.” The ruling determines that the RTFA can function properly only if its bar against litigation is not contingent on a jury’s determinations.

“I am pleased with the Supreme Court’s opinion and believe that this will strengthen across the country the protection against tort claims provided by right to farm laws, and discourage misguided ordinances and litigation directed at the important recycling practice of farming with biosolids,” Slaughter said. Slaughter is principal for Beveridge & Diamond P.C. in Washington.

Meanwhile, Synagro’s recent activity includes opening a composting facility in southwest Florida in 2014. The $4.3 million organics recycling center in Punta Gorda in Charlotte County. The facility converts biosolids and green waste into Class AA compost.

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