In this file:
· In a setback to Murphy-Brown, hog nuisance suits can go on, federal judge rules
· Bad News for Big Pork: A Federal Court Rules That the Murphy-Brown Nuisance Lawsuits Can Go to Trial
In a setback to Murphy-Brown, hog nuisance suits can go on, federal judge rules
By Lisa Sorg, The Progressive Pulse/NC Policy Watch
Nov 13, 2017
This story is part of a larger series on the national pork industry that NC Policy Watch is co-publishing with Environmental Health News. The series, Peak Pig, begins at EHN today.
On Wednesday, Policy Watch will examine the history of nuisance suits, plus swine waste-to energy technologies, and more.
The 26 nuisance lawsuits against hog giant Murphy-Brown can proceed to trial, a federal district court judge ruled last week. While the decision marks a brief victory for the residents living near the industrialized hog farms, the litigation might be the last of its kind in North Carolina.
In his 33-page ruling, Senior US District Court Judge Earl Britt undercut some of Murphy-Brown’s arguments, while allowing others: Britt did seal several pieces of evidence because it purportedly contained confidential business information. And he agreed to hear a motion in December that would separate the cases.
That strategy could make the lawsuits more expensive for the plaintiffs. And should one plaintiff lose, legal precedents might arise in court that could then jeopardize future rulings.
Mark Anderson, attorney with McGuire Woods, which is representing the pork producer, did not return an email seeking comment.
But Britt did set a tone that partially favored the plaintiffs. He discounted Murphy-Brown’s contention that their farms are immune from nuisance litigation under the state’s Right to Farm law. That law essentially shields industrialized livestock operations from nuisance suits if the plaintiffs have “moved to the nuisance”; in other words, precedence generally goes to whoever was there first, the residents or the farm.
In this case, many of the plaintiffs are living on land that has been in their families for generations.
“Their land use had been in existence well before the operations of the subject farms began,” Britt wrote. “The fact that some plaintiffs may have used their land for agricultural purposes in addition to a residence or that other agricultural uses have pre-existed in the locality does not alter the court’s analysis.”
These lawsuits against Murphy-Brown — the nation’s largest pork producer — prompted the creation of House Bill 467. Now law, the controversial measure prohibits plaintiffs who win nuisance suits from being awarded compensatory damages, including money to pay for medical treatment related to a farm’s odor, flies and noise.
Instead, winning plaintiffs can recover only damages that cover the devaluation of their property. Given that their property values could already be decreased because of the proximity to an industrialized farm, that amount of money would likely be negligible in comparison. Plaintiffs can still be awarded punitive damages, but those claims are much harder to prove.
The justification, lawmakers said, was that the number of lawsuits would supposedly financially hobble the billion-dollar agribusiness.
“Industry can’t sustain this,” said Sen. Brent Jackson during a debate on the bill. “Without livestock there would be tumbleweed rolling down city streets.”
Considering the political and financial muscle of Murphy-Brown, that scenario is unlikely...
more, including links
Bad News for Big Pork: A Federal Court Rules That the Murphy-Brown Nuisance Lawsuits Can Go to Trial
by Erica Hellerstein, Indy Week (NC)
Nov 13, 2017
For those of you who have been following our coverage of the commercial hog-farming industry in North Carolina, an update: Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Earl Britt ruled that the twenty-six federal nuisance lawsuits filed against the pork giant Murphy-Brown can finally go to trial—an important turning point in a high-profile and potentially game-changing case in a state where hog farming is serious business.
The lawsuits were filed by more than five hundred plaintiffs living near Murphy-Brown LLC's industrial hog farms in eastern North Carolina. The neighbors contend that the farms' waste-management systems, which consist of storing excess excrement in massive open-air cesspools and liquifying and spraying the remaining waste onto nearby fields, negatively affect their health and quality of life. They argue that Murphy-Brown’s multibillion-dollar parent company, Smithfield Foods, has the financial resources to manage the pigs’ waste in a way that minimizes the odor and nuisance to nearby property owners.
The issue gained notoriety this spring after Jimmy Dixon, a Republican state representative from Duplin County, introduced a controversial bill that capped the amount of money that property owners living near “agriculture and forestry operations,” including hog farms, could collect in nuisance lawsuits. Many speculated that Dixon, who has received more than $100,000 from commercial hog-farming interests throughout his political career, introduced the bill at the behest of the industry. (A provision in the bill that would have made the law apply retroactively, essentially nullifying the twenty-six federal lawsuits against Murphy-Brown, was voted down.) In May, after the legislature overrode Governor Cooper's veto, the bill became law.
Judge Britt's thirty-plus-page ruling dealt with various motions...
more, including PDF of the Motion