North Carolina’s recently enacted “Ag-Gag” law imposes civil consequences for interfering with private property.
- “Ag-Gag” legislation generally seeks to prevent individuals or organizations from investigating and publicizing farming conditions and practices that occur on private property. Several states have introduced and enacted Ag-Gag measures to date, but Utah’s and Idaho’s laws currently face constitutional challenges on 1st and 14th Amendment grounds.
- In June 2015, North Carolina’s legislature enacted the “Property Protection Act” by overriding the Governor’s veto of H.B. 405. Although the law is worded broadly enough to cover various industry sectors (e.g., nursing homes), the media has been focusing on its Ag-Gag implications. Unlike other state Ag-Gag measures, the North Carolina law provides for civil remedies for interference with property, rather than criminal actions. The law provides for recovery against a person who enters non-public areas of a premises to recover information subsequently used to breach that person’s “loyalty to the employer.” Liability also extends to the use of surveillance (images, sound, or electronic) in non-public areas. An employer may file a civil lawsuit and seek up to $5,000 per day for every day that violations continue.
- The North Carolina provisions — and indeed, Ag-Gag laws in general — are likely to remain the subject of controversy in the weeks and months ahead. Animal welfare activists view Ag-Gag laws as impeding the discovery and dissemination of information on improper or abusive farming practices. The agriculture industry views Ag-Gag measures as necessary to protect farming operations from infiltration by undercover activists, corporate espionage, undue interference, and unwarranted negative publicity. Particularly as Ag-Gag laws continue to be considered and challenged in other states, it remains to be seen whether North Carolina’s unique approach to providing civil remedies will be adopted elsewhere.