Judge Rules Corporate Farming Lawsuit is Detailed Enough

September 30, 2016 10:20 AM

A federal judge has rejected a request by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to order a more detailed complaint in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's Depression-era ban on corporate farming.

Plaintiffs including the North Dakota Farm Bureau sued in June, saying the nearly century-old law that aims to protect the state's family farming heritage actually hurts the agriculture industry and interferes with interstate commerce because it bars out-of-state corporations from owning farmland.

During the primary election in June, North Dakota voters rejected an effort to loosen the law's restrictions on pork and dairy operations.

Stenehjem maintained the lawsuit was so vague that his office couldn't even respond to it. He asked U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland in July to order the plaintiffs to more specifically detail why they believe the law is unconstitutional. He said "numerous sweeping references" to the law's supposed problems relegated the state to "speculation or outright guesswork" in its formal response.

Plaintiffs in August urged Hovland to reject Stenehjem's request, saying the attorney general had clearly demonstrated in court documents that he understood why the law is being challenged.

Hovland in a ruling on Wednesday denied Stenehjem's motion, agreeing that the lawsuit "is more than sufficiently clear" for the state to file a response.

The lawsuit "is 23 pages long, contains 123 numbered paragraphs, and sets forth four specific claims for relief," Hovland wrote.

Plaintiffs' attorney Sarah Herman said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday that she was pleased Hovland agreed with their position.

"The ruling is consistent with the applicable rules and case law and is the ruling we expected," she said, adding that "we were surprised by the attorney general's motion."

Stenehjem said the state "thought it would be more efficient to narrow the issues at this early stage rather than later."

"However, we respect the court's decision and we will proceed accordingly," he said in a statement to the AP.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the North Dakota Farm Bureau; a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a Wisconsin dairy company seeking to expand into North Dakota; a North Dakota hog farmer who is a member of the North Dakota Sow Center, which owns and operates several hog facilities and has partners in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa; the North Dakota Pork Council; a North Dakota cattle rancher who wants to expand; and Global Beef Consultants, which provides cattle consulting and export services and also owns two ranches in Kazakhstan.

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