HB 467 Defenders Say They’re Trying to Protect Small Farmers. But Pork Giant Murphy-Brown Tried to Get Lawsuits Dismissed Because Small Farmers Weren’t Included as Defendants. | News
News
INDY Week's news blog

Archives | RSS

Friday, May 26, 2017

HB 467 Defenders Say They’re Trying to Protect Small Farmers. But Pork Giant Murphy-Brown Tried to Get Lawsuits Dismissed Because Small Farmers Weren’t Included as Defendants.

Posted by on Fri, May 26, 2017 at 6:30 PM

Throughout the defense of House Bill 467, the controversial hog-farm protection bill that recently became law despite Governor Roy Cooper’s veto, the bill’s supporters, including Republican state representative Jimmy Dixon of Duplin County, argued that family farms need to be protected from lawsuits brought by avaricious attorneys. Those lawsuits, they argued, can bring hardworking farmers to the brink of financial ruin, hence the need for legislation to protect them.

Court documents, including a motion a federal judge ruled on last night, call into question the sincerity of this argument.

As the INDY has previously reported, HB 467 caps the amount of damages that property owners living near “agriculture and forestry operations,” including hog farms, can collect in nuisance lawsuits. Under the bill, people can only collect damages equal to the reduction in their property’s fair market value.

Much of the debate around the bill focused on twenty-six pending federal nuisance lawsuits filed by roughly five hundred people living near the hog farms against Murphy-Brown, the pork-producing subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. A previous version of the bill would have essentially nullified these lawsuits, though this provision was stricken from the bill that ultimately passed the House and Senate.

Most of the farms cited in the lawsuits are owned and operated by independent contractors who work with Murphy-Brown—and Murphy-Brown owned hogs. The lawsuits, however, are not filed against those local farmers, only Murphy-Brown. However, those farmers nonetheless loomed large among supporters of HB 467.

“This bill may discourage other lawyers from swooping into our rural communities and promising riches to neighbors willing to sue a nearby farmer,” said the N.C. Pork Council. “… This bill protects all farmers who live with the fear of being sued and bankrupted by predatory lawsuits.”

“They want to sue farmers for outrageous sums without having to prove real damages,” Dixon wrote in an April 7 op-ed in The News & Observer. “... This bill is designed to protect 50,000 hardworking North Carolina farmers who are feeding a hungry world.”

But court records show that Murphy-Brown filed a motion arguing that four or the twenty-six cases should be dismissed because those small farmers weren't included in the cases.

According to a memorandum filed by Murphy-Brown in in September 2016, “allowing these cases to go forward without the landowners forces Murphy-Brown to defend the location of the farms, the management of the farms, and the farms’ compliance with any number of North Carolina statutes and regulations—all matters that are indisputably the legal obligation of the permit holders.”

In other words, Murphy-Brown is saying that those family farmers the bill’s supporters are defending should be part of the ongoing litigation because they’re responsible for the alleged nuisance, not Murphy-Brown. Or, in legalese, “because they have several significant interests in the outcome of this litigation, and those interests would be severely compromised by a finding of nuisance.” Because they’re not, the lawsuits should be dropped altogether.

On Thursday night, Judge W. Earl Britt rejected Murphy-Brown’s motion.

“The primary thrust of defendant’s argument rests on the purported prejudice that the landowners would suffer if a nuisance is found in these cases in their absence,” he wrote. “According to defendant, a finding of nuisance would (1) interfere with the landowners’ fundamental property rights, including their state-issued permits for lagoon use, (2) subject the landowners to a significant risk of future liability, and (3) result in the landowners being in breach of their contracts with defendant. At bottom, however, the likelihood of such harm is slight and/or speculative, and failing to join the landowners as parties would not impair or impede their ability to protect their interests relating to the swine farm operations.”

Here is Murphy-Brown's request:

Murphy-Brown asks court to add family farms to lawsuits filed against the company by K Fine on Scribd


This post and its headline have been updated to better reflect the nature of Murphy-Brown’s filing, which sought to dismiss the lawsuits because the family farms weren’t included as defendants rather than add the farms as defendants in litigation.

Tags: , , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in News



Twitter Activity

Comments

Sessions has already strip mined the Civil Rights Division of the DoJ. Thankfully U.S. Senator Cory Booker, D-New Jersey is …

by growlybear on Senator Cory Booker Asks for the Release of a Department of Justice Memo on Thomas Farr’s Involvement in a Voter-Intimidation Scheme (News)

> Eventually, a claim to the county insurance company showed that $2.333,591.30 in cash had disappeared, almost daily, for nearly …

by xdu on Indictments in Wake Register of Deeds Scandal Charge Laura Riddick with Embezzling $926,615 (News)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

Sessions has already strip mined the Civil Rights Division of the DoJ. Thankfully U.S. Senator Cory Booker, D-New Jersey is …

by growlybear on Senator Cory Booker Asks for the Release of a Department of Justice Memo on Thomas Farr’s Involvement in a Voter-Intimidation Scheme (News)

> Eventually, a claim to the county insurance company showed that $2.333,591.30 in cash had disappeared, almost daily, for nearly …

by xdu on Indictments in Wake Register of Deeds Scandal Charge Laura Riddick with Embezzling $926,615 (News)

Fine work, Mr. Billman. Your readers are probably aware that most of the NC conservative shenanigans can be laid at …

by growlybear on The Republican Power Plays at the Heart of N.C. Politics (News)

I have very little patience for the empty-headed Pro-poison crowd, which is begging the government to take everyones rights away …

by DoritoReiss on The Problem with N.C.’s Religious Exemption Law (News)

About time some one fixed this.

by Bob Schroeck on Durham Attorney Scott Holmes Challenges N.C. Court Fees as Unconstitutional (News)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation