The Lawletter Vol 38 No 7
Going all the way back to the Woodstock Festival held at Max Yasgur's 600‑acre dairy farm in New York state in 1969, outdoor music concerts have regularly been held on farmlands. Naturally, these concerts can cause certain inconveniences for the neighbors of the farms.
Recently, in Shore v. Maple Lane Farms, LLC, No. E2011‑00158‑COA‑R3CV, 2013 WL 4428904 (Tenn. Aug. 19, 2013) (not yet released for publication), a farmer's neighbor filed suit against the farmer for holding outdoor concerts on his farm, asserting a claim for nuisance. The farmer defended, in part relying on the Tennessee Right to Farm Act, which purports to insulate farm operations from nuisance suits and provides in pertinent part that "it is a rebuttable presumption that a farm or farm operation . . . is not a public or private nuisance." Tenn. Code Ann. § 43‑26‑103(a). As used in the Act, "farm operation" is a broad term intended to include all activities connected "with the commercial production of farm products or nursery stock." Id. § 43-26-102(2).
However, the court refused to apply the Act to the amplified music concert being held at the farm. In its analysis, the court explained that "the Tennessee Right to Farm Act would apply to the noise generated by the concerts at Maple Lane Farms if these concerts are somehow connected 'with the commercial production of farm products or nursery stock.'" 2013 WL 4428904, at *12. Although the court considered the concerts to be a clever "marketing and promotion effort to further the income of the farming operation," it did not consider this marketing activity to be the "commercial production of farm products or nursery stock." Id.
The court explained:
We find it significant that the General Assembly chose to use the word "production" alone in its definition of "farm operation." It did not include "marketing," as other states have done in similar contexts. Marketing activities are not mentioned elsewhere in the Tennessee Right to Farm Act, and we have found no reference to marketing in the legislative history of the Act or any of its amendments. Based on the text and the legislative history of the Tennessee Right to Farm Act, no conclusion can be reached other than that, when it enacted the Act, the General Assembly was focused on the activities related to the production of farm products—that is to say, growing or raising these products. The General Assembly was not focused on the marketing of farm products for sale.
* * *
Despite our diligent search, we have found nothing that suggests the General Assembly
considered noise from amplified music concerts held on a farm to necessarily have a connection with producing farm products. Nor have we found any basis to conclude that the General Assembly considered music concerts to be some sort of farm operation. The plain language of the Tennessee Right to Farm Act reflects a close connection between producing farm products and the conditions or activities shielded by the Act.
Id. at *12, *14 (footnotes omitted).
Finally, the court concluded not only that the Act did not bar the neighbor's nuisance claim but also that the evidence was sufficient to establish a prima facie case of nuisance. For example, the neighbor testified that the concerts had an adverse effect on her health, including quickened pulse, headaches, and nausea, and that they affected her ability to sleep at night.
Another neighbor testified that the concerts were so loud that he could not hear television or have telephone conversations, even when his home was completely shut, and that he escaped the noise by leaving his home. A third neighbor testified that the concerts bothered her and were so loud that she could feel vibrations in her chest, and that the concerts interfered with her ability to read in her own home. Therefore, the supreme court reversed the judgments of the trial court and the court of appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings, charging the costs of the appeal to the farmer.