In this file:

 

·         Court upholds hog verdict; Smithfield announces settlement

… A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a 2018 jury verdict that led to awarding monetary damages to neighbors of a North Carolina industrial hog operation for smells and noise they said made living nearby unbearable… “We have resolved these cases through a settlement that will take into account the divided decision of the court,” Smithfield Foods Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo said in a statement. The company won’t disclose financial terms…

 

·         Smithfield Subsidiary Gets $2.5 Million Award Tossed in Hog Case

… farm operator Murphy-Brown LLC won dismissal of a $2.5 million punitive damages award in a nuisance case…

 

·         Court upholds nuisance verdicts against hog-production giant

… But judges ruled the jurors' massive multimillion-dollar awards - intended to penalize a subsidiary of the world's largest pork producer for wrongdoing - were unfairly weighed against its corporate assets and must be reconsidered… A majority on the three-judge panel rejected the arguments of attorneys for Murphy-Brown LLC that a new trial should be ordered…

 

·         Jurors in pollution trial shouldn’t have been told how rich pork execs are, judges rule

… Specifically, a lawyer for the Bladen County residents who sued over the hog waste pollution said: “They willfully choose not to do anything about it ... but yet they pay $245 million to four people over four years. That’s the kind of money they can spend when they want to”…

 

·         In damning opinion, federal appeals court rules against Murphy-Brown in hog nuisance suits

Punitive damages will be recalculated, but court sides with plaintiffs on all other arguments

 

 

 Court upholds hog verdict; Smithfield announces settlement

 

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

Nov 19, 2020

 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a 2018 jury verdict that led to awarding monetary damages to neighbors of a North Carolina industrial hog operation for smells and noise they said made living nearby unbearable.

 

But judges ruled the jurors’ multimillion-dollar awards — intended to penalize a subsidiary of the world’s largest pork producer for wrongdoing — were unfairly weighed against its corporate assets and must be reconsidered.

 

The decisions by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, came hours before Smithfield Foods said it had put an end to this and similar nuisance cases filed by North Carolina residents either already on appeal that went against the company or hadn’t gone to trial.

 

“We have resolved these cases through a settlement that will take into account the divided decision of the court,” Smithfield Foods Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo said in a statement. The company won’t disclose financial terms.

 

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs and those in other cases neither confirmed nor mentioned a settlement late Thursday. A statement from lawyers involved in the appeal praised the court’s decision to affirm the verdict.

 

The case ruled upon Thursday by the appeals panel was the first that went to trial among dozens of lawsuits filed by more than 500 neighbors complaining about hog operations. Five that went to trial went against Smithfield, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in punitive damages, which were later reduced because of state law capping such awards. While one lawsuit still resulted in $94 million in damages, more recent verdicts led to much lower compensation.

 

A majority of the three-judge panel rejected Thursday the arguments of attorneys for Murphy-Brown LLC that a new trial should be ordered. Murphy-Brown is a subsidiary of Smithfield, which is owned by Hong Kong-based WH Group Limited.

 

The jurors found the company liable for the nuisance conditions at a Bladen County farm in eastern North Carolina that raised 15,000 hogs annually for the company and disposed of massive amounts of feces and urine there. The neighbors of Kinlaw Farms had filed suit, complaining they had suffered for years from intense, putrid smells coming from open-air hog waste lagoons. They alleged that Smithfield Foods refused to spend money on technology that could address these problems.

 

The jurors declared Murphy-Brown interfered with the enjoyment of the residents’ property. The 10 neighbors received a total of $750,000 in compensation, plus $50 million in damages designed to punish Smithfield and WH Group. North Carolina state law forced U.S. District Judge Earl Britt to cut the punitive damages to $2.5 million. Still, the initial award total worried the hog industry and state agriculture leaders, even causing the North Carolina legislature to pass a law further restricting such litigation.

 

Lombardo said the lawsuits were part of a “coordinated effort by plaintiffs’ attorneys and their allies aimed at dismantling our safe, reliable and modern system of food production.” She said in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s better to focus on producing good food instead of returning to “ongoing and distracting litigation.”

 

Writing the prevailing opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker rejected several arguments from Smithfield’s lawyers...

 

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https://apnews.com/article/north-carolina-courts-4b2f1db4c21e03653851e81b81996410

 

 

Smithfield Subsidiary Gets $2.5 Million Award Tossed in Hog Case

 

o   $750,000 in compensatory damages will stand

o   Dissent says entire case should be retried

 

Peter Hayes, Bloomberg Law

Nov. 19, 2020

 

Industrial hog farm operator Murphy-Brown LLC won dismissal of a $2.5 million punitive damages award in a nuisance case brought by neighbors of its North Carolina facility after the Fourth Circuit found the jury was improperly allowed to consider the value and executive compensation of its parent companies, Smithfield Foods Inc. and WH Group.

 

A recalculation of punitive damages is necessary because there is a risk that the jury inappropriately applied information about the parent companies when deciding how much money would be required for Murphy-Brown “to ‘feel’ the effect of the damages award,” the court said.

 

"[I]nflammatory financial...

 

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https://news.bloomberglaw.com/product-liability-and-toxics-law/smithfield-subsidiary-gets-2-5-million-award-tossed-in-hog-case

 

 

Court upholds nuisance verdicts against hog-production giant

 

By Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press

via KOB 4 (NM) - November 19, 2020

 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a 2018 jury verdict that led to awarding monetary damages to neighbors of a North Carolina industrial hog operation for smells and noise they said made living nearby unbearable.

 

But judges ruled the jurors' massive multimillion-dollar awards - intended to penalize a subsidiary of the world's largest pork producer for wrongdoing - were unfairly weighed against its corporate assets and must be reconsidered. The decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, could affect similar nuisance cases filed by North Carolina rural residents already on appeal that went against Smithfield Foods or haven't gone to trial.

 

A majority on the three-judge panel rejected the arguments of attorneys for Murphy-Brown LLC that a new trial should be ordered. Murphy-Brown is a subsidiary of Smithfield, which in turn is owned by Hong Kong-based WH Group Limited.

 

The jurors found the company liable for the nuisance conditions at a Bladen County farm in eastern North Carolina that raised 15,000 hogs annually for the company and disposed of massive amounts of feces and urine there. The neighbors of Kinlaw Farms had filed suit, complaining they had suffered for years from intense, putrid smells coming from open-air hog waste lagoons. They alleged that Smithfield Foods refused to spend money on technology that could address these problems.

 

The jurors declared Murphy-Brown interfered with the enjoyment of the residents' property. The 10 neighbors received a total of $750,000 in compensation, plus $50 million in damages designed to punish Smithfield and WH Group. North Carolina state law forced U.S. District Judge Earl Britt to cut the punitive damages to $2.5 million.

 

Writing the prevailing opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker rejected several arguments from Smithfield's lawyers where they said Britt erred, including whether the issue of punitive damages should even have been put to the jury.

 

Thacker said there was ample evidence for jurors to conclude the company "persisted in its chosen farming practices despite its knowledge of the harms to its neighbors." She mentioned piles of hog carcasses in dumpsters on the farm, extensive summer spraying of hog waste from lagoons onto fields, and trucks running at all hours. Smithfield ultimately removed its hogs from Kinlaw Farms.

 

It was appropriate for jurors to consider the large bank accounts annd executives' salaries at Smithfield and WH Group in determining whether it could have paid to improve technology and other conditions at Kinlaw Farms, Thacker wrote. But she said it was wrong for Britt to allow jurors to consider the same information in determining the size of punitive damages, citing "the particular ability of potentially inflammatory evidence to sway a jury's calculation." The court vacated the punitive award and will return the case to the trial court to determine appropriate damages.

 

An attorney representing the plaintiffs and a spokesperson for Smithfield didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

 

Circuit Judge G. Steven Agee wrote separately to say he would have given Murphy-Brown a new trial. The plaintiffs, Agee wrote, used "overtly irrelevant, prejudicial and unreliable evidence" that made the verdict invalid.

 

The case...

 

more

https://www.kob.com/national-news/court-upholds-nuisance-verdicts-against-hog-production-giant/5929606/

 

 

Jurors in pollution trial shouldn’t have been told how rich pork execs are, judges rule

 

By Will Doran, The News & Observer (NC)

November 19, 2020

 

RALEIGH / A federal appeals court overturned a jury’s multi-million-dollar verdict from Eastern North Carolina against the pork company Murphy Brown in a major hog farm pollution case on Thursday.

 

The judges ruled it was unfair to the Smithfield subsidiary that the jury knew how much the companies’ top executives are paid.

 

Specifically, a lawyer for the Bladen County residents who sued over the hog waste pollution said: “They willfully choose not to do anything about it ... but yet they pay $245 million to four people over four years. That’s the kind of money they can spend when they want to.”

 

In the end the jury awarded the neighbors of the Bladen County farm in question millions of dollars in punitive damages, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network. However, the jury’s initial verdict was later reduced to $2.5 million because of a state law capping lawsuit damages.

 

But the judges on Thursday ordered the whole decision on punitive damages to be redone, this time with no mention of corporate finances or executive compensation.

 

When the jury heard about the millions of dollars the top executives make every year, the judges wrote, those jurors might have used that knowledge to “inappropriately ... decide how much money would be required for (Murphy Brown) to ‘feel’ the effect of the damages award.”

 

One of many hog farm lawsuits ...

 

A lesson from Charlotte’s Web? ...

 

more, including links  

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article247290444.html

 

 

In damning opinion, federal appeals court rules against Murphy-Brown in hog nuisance suits

Punitive damages will be recalculated, but court sides with plaintiffs on all other arguments

 

By Lisa Sorg, NC Policy Watch/The Progressive Pulse

Nov 19, 2020

 

Murphy-Brown lost nearly every legal argument it posed before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in a damning opinion issued this afternoon reaffirmed a jury verdict awarding monetary damages to 10 neighbors who had filed nuisance suits against the world’s largest pork producer.

 

After 10 months since the oral arguments, the Fourth Circuit affirmed a decision issued by the District Court that Murphy-Brown’s operation of its industrialized hog operations — open lagoon and spray field systems, “dead boxes” and all-hours truck traffic — unduly harmed neighbors’ quality of life. The only point that Murphy-Brown prevailed on was the role of executive salaries and parent company profits in calculating punitive damages.

 

The case centered on neighbors of the Kinlaw Farm in Bladen County, a contract grower for Murphy-Brown/Smithfield Foods. However, the suit was filed in 2018 against Murphy-Brown, which controls every aspect of the farm, from the type and amount of feed, to the number of hogs raised, to the lagoon-and-sprayfield waste management systems.

 

After more than two weeks of hearing testimony, a jury awarded each plaintiff  $75,000 each in compensatory damages, plus another $5 million apiece for punitive damages. The total: Upward of $50 million, an historic amount.

 

Punitive damages can be awarded if a jury finds a defendant “committed fraud,”  “acted in malice” or in “wanton neglect.”

 

There will be no new trial, the appellate court ruled, only a rehearing on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded to neighbors without considering the parent company or executives’ financial information. Compensatory damages are unaffected.

 

At the district court level, the neighbors were represented by Wallace & Graham, based in Salisbury, who had hired Michael Kaeske of Texas to argue the case. McGuireWoods in Richmond, Va., represented Murphy-Brown.

 

In the 144-page opinion, appeals court judges disarmed Murphy-Brown’s many defenses, including its major points:

 

more, including links 

http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2020/11/19/in-damning-opinion-federal-appeals-court-rules-against-murphy-brown-in-hog-nuisance-suits/