Gagging local farmers and awarding millions
By Charlotte Smith
Bladen County farmers along with pork companies in the mother county are grasping for help after a multi-million dollar lawsuit. The verdict handed down in one case resulted in a Bladen County farmer losing all his hogs according to witnesses. There are over 20 more similar pork industry lawsuits set to take place and the next one has other local farmers fighting to keep their farms.
In April, 10 hog farm neighbors were awarded 50 million dollars by a jury. To comply with a 1995 North Carolina law capping damages the judge presiding over the landmark verdict reduced the damage sentence from 50 million dollars to 3.25 million dollars.
The next trial set to start on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 will affect three more Bladen County farming families. Bladen County farmers affected by the court’s verdict are not allowed to talk about the matter due to a gag order passed down from the U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt.
“It is a very serious situation and may change the hog industry as we know it,” one retired politician said. “It could damage Bladen County severely,” he added.
There are about 9 million hogs on nearly 2,300 hog farms in North Carolina. Bladen County rates high on the hog farming industry list.
According to one local farmer, lawyers from Texas came to North Carolina and went soliciting door to door asking hog farm neighbors to take legal action against the industry due to the smell. In the court case involving farmer, Joey Carter, the residents moved on the land after the farm was established. BladenOnline.com reached out to some of the neighbors of the farms but no comments were made.
“It’s nothing short of a travesty. This law firm came from Texas and they went soliciting door to door,” one local farmer said about Carter’s case.
Many Bladen County residents are saying the lawsuits ruled over by Judge Britt this year have been unfairly handled. Charges are made about the Plaintiffs’ witnesses being allowed, but the defendants witnesses are not allowed, tours of the farms are not allowed and the innovation and research the hog farm industry preforms is also being overlooked.
“Plaintiffs have suffered episodes of noxious and sickening odor, onslaughts of flies and pests, nausea, burning and watery eyes, stress, anger, worry, loss of use and enjoyment of their property, inability to comfortably engage in outdoor activities, cookouts, gardening, lawn chores, drifting of odorous mist and spray onto their land, inability to keep windows and doors open, difficulty breathing and numerous other harms,” is what the Plaintiff’s complaint was according to the hog farms neighbors’ attorneys.
In April, Britt ruled the jury would not be allowed to take a tour of the Bladen County farm involved. The hogs grown on the farm were used for Murphy-Brown, LLC, the hog production division of Smithfield Foods. Britt did expand on his ruling.
According to reports about the case Britt wrote in his order, “Plaintiffs’ odor and other complaints, of course, cover a much longer period. Conditions when jurors visit would not necessarily be substantially similar to what plaintiffs experienced at a given time.”
One witness of the case, Elvis Williams, 60, told jurors he did not know a farm was next door when he moved his mobile home there. Flies, odors and noise from trucks was on the list of complaints from Williams, according to the Associated Press.
Dr. Pamela Dalton, a renowned odor expert was prevented from offering her expert testimony in the nuisance trial against a Duplin County hog farm. According to witnesses, Dalton, the renowned odor expert and her team of experts camped out on farms and spent many days taking samples, but she was not allowed to testify according to one witness.
However, the Plaintiff’s witness, a college professor was allowed to testify about the odor. The defendants were not allow to refute that evidence with their own witness according to those involved in the case.
The new Farm Act, Senate Bill 711, has been passed to help farmers with cases like these, but it will not allowing any assistance for the farmers affected in the more than 20 cases set to take trail soon. Plus, the Farm Bill does not help the farmers and companies already suffering from the verdicts already handed down. The new bill limits when and how hog-farm neighbors can file nuisance suits.
Politicians have been in heated debates since May about how to help the farmers and the citizens.
“North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety,” Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement about the issues.
Governor Cooper vetoed the NC Farm Bill in June. However, the House and Senate had the Veto Overridden. The Bill Summaries for the Senate Bill 711 were last updated on July 3, 2018.
“I can’t even fathom why the Governor wouldn’t pass it and I don’t know why our local elected officials have not made a bigger deal about the law suits,” said one farmer.
Thousands of Farmers have been going to Raleigh and no one is talking about it according to one farmer. “I think Senator Bill Rabon and Senator Brent Jackson have been very supportive,” another local farmer said.
“We had a rally in Raleigh last Monday. Lt. Governor Dan Forest stood up at the rally and had a great speech in front of several thousand people,” said one local business person in attendance.
One Bladen County farmer said, “We do our jobs well. Smithfield and Murphy-Brown did a good job getting rid of farmers who didn’t care about the way they practiced farming. The family farmers in business now care about what they are doing and are not breaking any laws.”
The trial to start on Tuesday next week will affect three local Bladen County farmers and the Greenwood Livestock Company. Billy Kinlaw from Dublin, NC was the first farmer in Bladen County heavily affected by the trials.
The trials have and will continue to affect Bladen County and North Carolina. Stay tuned to BladenOnline.com for more information about the hog farm law suits.