Bugged by hungry bunnies, farmer sues city of Chandler

2013-07-09T00:00:00Z 2013-07-09T13:47:47Z Bugged by hungry bunnies, farmer sues city of ChandlerHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
July 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - It isn't exactly the landmark case of E. Fudd vs. B. Bunny.

But a Gilbert farm owner has gone to court to force his next-door neighbor, the city of Chandler, to keep what he says are "its" rabbits off "his" property.

The attorney for Jeff Foshee Farms complains his client never had a problem with varmints on its 40-acre parcel at Chandler Heights Road and Val Vista Drive, where alfalfa and, sometimes, sorghum has been grown since 2003.

But attorney Henry Stein said all that changed when Chandler established its Veterans Oasis Park and Environmental Education Center on that city's southeast edge.

"Following the establishment of the park in 2008, the farm began to notice an increase in the loss rate of the crops," Stein wrote in his lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court. "The cause of these losses was not initially understood."

But what eventually became obvious, he said, is the damage to the crops was more severe on the west side of the farm. That's the area next to the park.

And that, in turn, led to farm employees deciding to hang around at night to see exactly what was going on.

"These inspections revealed a large-scale nightly migration of rabbits from the park to the farm," Stein said. "The rabbits eat the crops and then return to the park."

Stein said the problem is the park is providing a haven to rabbits, providing them with "refuge, water, and a nearby food source, to wit, the farm." And rabbits being rabbits, the habitat provided by the park has resulted in, well, lots more rabbits.

The farm's legal claim is based on the legal concept of nuisance.

Specifically, Stein said the farm was there first. By creating the park, he said the city has created conditions that have allowed the rabbit population in the area to grow and thrive.

And Stein said the city has "allowed the rabbit population to leave the park and enter the farm for food."

Assistant City Attorney Eric Anderson questioned the basis for the lawsuit.

"I don't know that they're 'our' rabbits," he said. "They're Mother Nature's rabbits."

Anyway, Anderson said, it's not like the city created a park for rabbits and then brought them in.

Stein wants Judge Mark Aceto to order Chandler to install a temporary fence to keep the rabbits out. Eventually, the lawyer said, his client wants a permanent barrier of some sort that would eliminate or substantially reduce the damage to the crops.

The lawsuit also seeks unspecified compensatory damages.

Chandler has not yet filed a response, and no date has been set for a hearing.

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