US Supreme Court Will Not Hear North Carolina “Ag Gag” Appeal

Last week, the United States Supreme Court denied a Petition for Certiorari filed by the State of North Carolina and the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation seeking review of a decision striking down a portion of the state’s Property Protection Act, often called an “ag gag” law.

The law, passed in 2015, punishes “any person who intentionally gains access to the nonpublic areas of another’s premises and engages in an act that exceeds the person’s authority to enter.”  Activities that “exceed” authority include (1) capturing, removing, or photographing employer data, records, or documents in order to breach the person’s duty of loyalty to the employer, (2) capturing images or sound occurring on the premises in order to breach the duty of loyalty to the employer, (3) placing an unintended camera or electronic surveillance device on the employer’s property to record images or data, and (4) committing an act that substantially interferes with the ownership or possession of real property.

The lawsuit was initially filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and other animal rights groups who claim the law violates their First Amendment rights.  Earlier this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the Property Protection Act was unconstitutional as applied to “newsgathering activities.”  As there will be no Supreme Court review, that decision will stand. 

These “ag gag” laws have faced litigation around the country in an attempt to prohibit trespassing and falsifying information to gain access to agricultural facilities to conduct undercover surveillance.  To date, 11 states have passed some version of an “ag gag” statute.  The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is considering whether to uphold a lower court decision striking down an Iowa law making it a crime to record video or audio on a “trespassed property.”  Portions or all of “ag gag” statutes have also been stricken as unconstitutional in Idaho, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming.  The only statute to be challenged and fully upheld was Arkansas’ statute after a Motion to Dismiss was granted in the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

For a compilation of all “ag gag” statutes and legal challenges, click here.  To listen to a discussion of these statutes and legal challenges, click here.

United States Supreme Court Petition Information:  Stein v. PETA, 22-1150; North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, Inc. v. PETA, 22-1148.

Lashmet, Tiffany. “US Supreme Court Will Not Hear North Carolina “Ag Gag” Appeal.Southern Ag Today 3(44.5). November 3, 2023. Permalink

Photo by Jaxon Matthew Willis (Highpoint, NC):