Manure Manager

Features Regional Regulations
PSF to appeal verdict


April 23, 2010
By Manure Manager

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Despite a recent Missouri jury returning a collective $11 million
verdict against Premium Standard Farms, Inc. and ContiGroup Companies,
Premium Standard plans to appeal the decision.
Despite a recent Missouri jury returning a collective $11 million verdict against Premium Standard Farms, Inc. and ContiGroup Companies, Premium Standard plans to appeal the decision.

“We are obviously disappointed in (the) verdict; however, we believe that there are substantial grounds for reversal on appeal,” the company stated in a press release issued not long after the court decision was announced.

“The court gave the jury the impossible task of sorting through claims by 15 different individuals from seven different families in different locations with each claim raising a set of distinctive issues. While the jury tried its best, it was inevitable that this ‘gang trial’ would result in a ‘gang verdict.’ We will ask the appellate court to require that each family’s claim against a specific farm be litigated separately. That is the only way the parties can be assured of a fair trial.”

The $11 million verdict, delivered March 4, 2010, represents one of the largest jury awards against a hog farm in an odor nuisance case. It covered 11 years of damages.

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During the case, the plaintiffs alleged that “relentless and extreme odors” from the defendants’ finishing farm created an unreasonable nuisance. Family members testified at trial that the smell was intense enough to prevent them from venturing outdoors on many days.

Nearly five weeks of evidence was heard centering on the defendants’ land application of liquid hog manure, maintenance of wastewater lagoons, and other farming activities at the state permitted farm in Gentry County.

“The jury recognized that the pumping is merely a disguised form of waste disposal – with the farms releasing far more effluent than the land can possibly absorb,” said lawyer Charles F. Speer of Speer Law Firm, one of three firms who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, in a press release.

“(The) defendants claimed their operations complied with state environmental regulations – however, this trial showed that PSF produced industrial-scale pollution with complete lack of regard for the extreme toxicity its operation caused for its neighbors, day in and day out,” stated lead trial counsel Richard H. Middleton, Jr. of The Middleton Firm in a press release.

In light of the decision and “the continuing hostile environment toward live hog operations,” Premium Standard Farms officials said the company is seriously considering whether to make any future investments in Missouri.

“It threatens the viability of the Missouri farm economy when a farm that has been granted a permit to operate by the state and is in compliance with the permit and state and federal regulations can be held liable for such damages,” the company stated in a press release. “If it is indeed the law in Missouri that a permitted farm in compliance with its permit can be subject to such damages then, to preserve its agribusiness sector, the legislature should move swiftly to correct this aberration.”