How A Winery Initially Got Around Oregon’s Strict Right to Farm Act to Complain About the Odor of a Neighboring Marijuana Farm

By: Creditor’s Rights & Bankruptcy & Litigation Practice Groups

Right to Farm in Oregon

 Oregon has a strong right to farm policy that began in the early 1970’s. In 1993 the Oregon legislature established a right to farm law that protects growers from complaints about customary noise, smells, dust, or other nuisances associated with farming. Oregon Revised Statute 30.930 limits local governments and special districts from administratively declaring certain farm products nuisances or trespasses. So how did one winery get around Oregon’s strict right to farm law in order to file a legal complaint against its neighboring marijuana farm for causing an odor some grape purchasers believe are tainting wine grapes?

 RICO Claim

 U.S. Senior District Judge Anna Brown recently decided that a vineyard has legal standing under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) to pursue a case against its neighboring marijuana farm in federal court. To prove standing under the RICO Act, a plaintiff must allege that he suffered harm to a specific business or property interest, and that the injury was a proximate result of racketeering. The alleged injury must result from a concrete proprietary financial loss.

 Allegations Against the Marijuana Operation

 A vineyard in Yamhill County, Oregon recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against its neighboring marijuana farm, alleging that the farm is running a criminal enterprise because growing marijuana is still illegal under federal law. The vineyard alleged in its lawsuit that at least one customer canceled its order for grapes due to concern that the odor from the adjacent marijuana farm contaminated the grapes and could negatively affect the taste of the wine. The marijuana farm filed a motion to dismiss the case, stating in the motion that allegations of lost grape sales, reduced grape marketability, and reduced property rental income were not concrete damages caused by a RICO violation. However, Judge Brown denied the motion to dismiss and ruled that “[t]he customer’s concerns, whether valid or invalid, arose directly from the proximity of defendant’s marijuana-grow operation,” and that the vineyard stated a claim for relief that is plausible on its face under RICO.

 Overcoming a motion to dismiss simply means the case can move forward for continuing litigation. The vineyard must still prove all of the elements of a RICO claim, including causation. While proving causation may be challenging, this case could become a template for more litigation against marijuana operations and a way to challenge Oregon’s strict right to farm policy, at least while marijuana operations remain illegal under federal law. 

Peggy Richard is an attorney in the Creditor’s Rights & Bankruptcy and Litigation practice group. The information in this article is not intended to provide legal advice. For professional consultation, please contact Peggy Richard at Saalfeld Griggs PC.  503.399.1070.  © 2019 Saalfeld Griggs PC