Generally speaking, a defendant who successfully defends a lawsuit cannot collect his/her legal fees from the other side. One exception is when the court determines that the lawsuit was so frivolous that the claim should have never been filed. In that case, the court may award the defendant legal fees. From experience, I can tell you that courts rarely find a claim to be frivolous and it is even more rare for a court to award legal fees.
Indiana representatives William Friend, R-Macy and Donald Lehe, R-Brookston have submitted a bill that would require courts to award legal fees to agricultural operations who successfully defend frivolous nuisance lawsuits. (House Bill 1091) Rep. Friend feels that some individuals have used the potential cost of defending a nuisance lawsuit to discourage starting or expanding an agricultural operation, such as a CAFO. Nuisance claimants may think twice about bringing a lawsuit if they are on the hook for a CAFO’s legal fees if the suit was found frivolous.
Opponents of the bill claim that Indiana’s right-to-farm laws already protect agricultural operations from nuisance lawsuits. Furthermore, the threat of incurring a CAFO’s legal fees would essentially put a stop to potentially legitimate nuisance claims.
– A full report on the Indiana’s House Ag and Rural Development Committee’s debate of the bill can be found here –
The threat of legal fees is essentially a hammer which can be used by either side to get what they want. It will be interesting to see whether Indiana places the hammer in the toolbox of agricultural operators or leaves it in the hands of their neighbors.