How much is contending with a bad smell worth? Courts in San Francisco and Kentucky may soon decide.

Steven Smith owns a Mediterranean-style restaurant at Pier 33 on the Bay--and across the street from a wastewater treatment plant. Occasionally, a sewer smell wafts his way, making the fine-dining experience he's offering much less savory. The city says it can't find the source of the odors, so Smith is suing for $5 million.

"I've been a tenant now for 29 years," says architect John W. Powers, whose office is also on the pier. "It's always been a problem. The more development, the worse it gets."

Smith apparently is suing not in hopes of recouping any losses--his restaurant is doing pretty well--but to command City Hall's attention.

A few years ago, San Francisco lost funding for its Odormobile, a converted recreational vehicle that during the 1990s shuttled volunteers around city streets to sniff out sewer odors before they became a serious problem. These days, the city devotes a full-time employee, but he is limited to addressing "any odor complaint we receive," according to a Public Utilities Commission spokeswoman.

An even bigger malodorous case reached the courts in Kentucky in May. The city of Marion slapped a local farmer and Tyson Foods with a criminal nuisance lawsuit. The stench generated in 16 chicken houses regularly "trespasses" into Marion. For three days last summer, county attorney Mike Stout contends, residents in a large subdivision located near the broilers could not step outside.

If the city prevails, each chicken could be worth a $250 per day fine, adding up to $100 million in daily penalties. Lawyers for the poultry concerns dispute both the charges brought against legal agricultural activities and the potentially massive fines.