Letter to the editor: Nuisance lawsuits a growing headache to CAFO owners

5
1904

To the editor:

In February, this year’s first CAFO nuisance jury trial took place in Wapello County District Court. Ten bellwether plaintiffs, representing a larger plaintiff group living near about 4,500 hogs in Wapello County, sued CAFO owner Richard Warren, Warren Family Pork, and Cargill Pork (now JBS) over noxious manure odors impacting their quality of life.

Proponents and opponents of factory farms eagerly anticipated the outcome. Prior to the trial, Richard Warren and Warren Family Pork filed a “Confessed Judgment” and entered into an out-of-court Confidential Settlement Agreement with the plaintiffs. Many CAFO opponents consider this an important victory in and of itself. Unfortunately, despite vigorous arguments by plaintiff’s legal counsel, the jury decided for Cargill/JBS, the remaining defendant.

Nonetheless, the issue of CAFOs being held accountable to neighbors is just beginning. This trial was the first of many CAFO lawsuits around the state in litigation with the Speer, Middleton and Sykes legal team. CAFO nuisance cases pose a significant commitment of time, money, public scrutiny and uncertainty for CAFO owners. It’s believed the Warren family and Cargill/JBS incurred monumental legal fees well into six figures over the two- to three-year litigation period.

Eldon McAfee, longtime attorney for the Iowa Pork Producer Association, knows all too well the cost and stress of nuisance lawsuits for CAFO owners. He addressed the issue — as he does every year — at the January 2016 Iowa Pork Congress as part of his annual legal overview of CAFO nuisance cases with recommendations to CAFO owners.

At the 2014 Pork Congress, McAfee spent only a few minutes reviewing nuisance lawsuits, noting there hadn’t been any cases since 2008. This year, however, he dedicated a full one-third of his presentation to 12 current cases, that he said are raising serious concerns to the industry.

McAfee reflected on the sharp rise in the number of CAFO nuisance cases now in litigation. In his 20 years of experience, he said, “Right now we have as many nuisance cases on file in Iowa . . . that I know of at any one time.”

The lawsuits bring costs and stresses to the owners of the factory hog confinements. “I can guarantee you,” McAfee said, “that every producer on that list of 12 sincerely wishes they weren’t on that list.”

On aspects of the Cargill trial, he said whenever a CAFO owner’s lawyer says that something about a suit is “unique” or “interesting,” then you better “hang on to your wallet because that means it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of legal work.”

On a $525,000 jury award to a Poweshiek County plaintiff in 2015: “That is not what we as livestock producers wanted to see.”

On following Mr. McAfee’s recommendations to avoid lawsuits: “I’ll be the first to tell you, you can do every one of these things . . . and still get sued. There is no magic bullet.”

In the opinion of Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors Inc., these lawsuits aren’t going away. There will be wins and losses, but anytime a CAFO nuisance case goes to court, it serves as a significant deterrent, and the pork industry groans – or rather, squeals.

Anyone considering a CAFO should think long and hard about the ramifications of building a confinement against their neighbors’ wishes.

Diane Rosenberg, executive director
Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors Inc.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I agree that you all shouldn’t be bothered with nuisance lawsuits. We’d prefer we had the legal muscle to compel you to change your practices or be shut down. If we’re only a nuisance, we’re not trying hard enough. Nothing personal to those in operation around me, but what you’re doing isn’t working. I’d rather you change your ways instead of forcing our hands.

  2. Professional Tip: When you decide to use an acronym when writing an article, essay, or report; you should spell out what it mean’s. I learned that at Perry High School Journalism. For Example, “In February, this year’s first CAFO nuisance jury” Should read “In February, this year’s first Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) nuisance jury…”

    • Thanks, Kyle. That’s a lesson worth remembering. And to show you what good sports we are here at ThePerryNews.com, we shall pass over in silence that apostrophe at the end of your first sentence. But your point is valid, and we try to adhere to the rule in all our reports, excepting the occasional acronym in a headline, as here. Thanks for reading ThePerryNews.com, Perry’s number one source for local news.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.