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The Fowl Neighbor Next Door: East Texans fought back and won when a chicken farm – and its smells – moved in

A judge closed it. Now, the Texas Supreme Court has been asked to decide if it should reopen in a case with statewide ramifications for landowners and homeowners.

Tanya Eiserer, Mark Smith

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Published: 6:47 PM CDT May 6, 2022
Updated: 10:43 PM CDT May 6, 2022

Mersini Blanchard says the first clue a fowl neighbor had moved in was the foul smell.  

She thought at first there was a dead animal nearby.  

Blanchard and her neighbors would soon realize the smell was coming from a newly built chicken farm, just over a mile from her Malakoff home in Henderson County, about 70 miles southeast of Dallas.  

“Sometimes it’s so bad … you cannot come outside to enjoy your property anymore,” Blanchard said. 

Appraisal district and court records show the value of the family’s home and 1,200 acres of surrounding property plunged 75 percent after the chicken farm – and the smell – moved in.  

“I was going to be stuck with a piece of property here that would basically be worthless,” said Mersini’s son, Frank Blanchard, a Dallas custom home builder.  

Credit: WFAA-TV
Frank Blanchard and his mother, Mersini, sued Sanderson Farms.

Frustrated, the Blanchards and their neighbors banded together to file a nuisance lawsuit. They asked that the chicken farm operation be shut down. 

In 2019, a jury sided with them, finding the farm was a nuisance to the neighbors. Henderson County District Judge Scott McKee ordered that the chicken farm operation be closed.  

“Defendants deny a nuisance exists and have either taken no or insufficient measures to reduce the odor pollution...,” Judge McKee wrote. 

Almost two years after the farm operation was shuttered, neighbors worry the smells could return. Sanderson Farms, which supplies chickens to the farm, has appealed the case.  

Now before the Texas Supreme Court, any ruling will have potential ramifications for homeowners’ and landowners’ rights across the state. 

In Sanderson Farms’ petition to the Texas Supreme Court, the company says the judge’s decision to close the farm operation is a “fundamental misfit for a temporary nuisance.” 

The company argues that if the farm operation can’t reopen, it would be bad for business. “No rational investor will risk investing substantial resources knowing even a temporary problem can lead to permanent loss of the investment,” the filing says.  

“Several lawsuits have already been filed against poultry farms across the state, and this decision provides a roadmap for shutting them down,” the filing says.  

The company declined a request for comment, citing the ongoing litigation. 

Neighbors and their attorneys argue that the district court’s ruling to close the farm should be upheld.   

“If the neighbors in Henderson County were to lose, it would absolutely embolden Sanderson,” said Brian Lauten, an attorney representing the neighbors. “I think what you’ll see is a domino effect of barns popping up all over East Texas.” 

Credit: WFAA-TV
Dallas attorney Brian Lauten represented the Malakoff neighbors.