Vanderbilt Law Review


Tory H. Lewis

First Page



In an episode of the popular television series Seinfeld, George Costanza narrowly avoids stepping in a pile of horse manure and emphatically declares, "[M]anure's not that bad. I don't even mind the word 'manure.' You know, it's, it's 'nure,' which is good and a 'ma' in front of it. MA-NURE. When you consider the other choices, 'manure' is actually pretty refreshing."'

Not everyone shares George's enthusiasm for animal excrement. Agricultural waste has been a source of community distress for generations. In 1932, a California appellate court determined that a dairy, hog-raising, and cattle-raising operation constituted a nuisance under state law. The offending farm rested on eighty acres of land across the highway from the plaintiff. Although farmer Howard Cook was engaged in a lawful and ordinary business, according to the court, the manure that his forty-six cows and herd of pigs produced "so befouled the atmosphere as to interfere with the use, comfort and enjoyment of the [plaintiffs] property." The court also was convinced that "breeding cows [next to] the highway" constituted a nuisance. Relying on nuisance cases involving air pollution from factories, laundromats, and gas companies, the court clarified California law by concluding that it is "not necessary that the health of [the plaintiff] or members of his household ... be impaired. It is sufficient if the odors [and] sounds ... were offensive to the senses." The court enjoined Cook from continuing the nuisance and suggested that he move the offensive activity to a more remote location on his property. Unfortunately for Mr. Cook, such a holding required that he either stop farming altogether or tear down his facilities and rebuild his operation in a location farther from the road. As a result of the nuisance suit, an offensive odor caused by a small herd of cattle and pigs placed Mr. Cook's entire farm in jeopardy.

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