The waiting game continues for the North Carolina pork industry as the three judges for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., now have 90 days to issue their ruling on hog nuisance lawsuits in their state.
On Friday, the panel heard from counsel representing both plaintiffs and Murphy-Brown, the subsidiary of Smithfield Foods named as defendant in all five cases heard so far. Before punitive damage law was applied, judgments from the juries totaled nearly $550 million. The punitive damage law reduced that amount, including compensatory amounts, to $97.9 million, the Bladen Journal reports.
This case, “Joyce McKiver, et. al. v. Murphy-Brown, LLC,” is a compilation of five cases, including the Billy Kinlaw farm in White Oak, two farms in a case based in Pender County connected to White Lake commissioner and businessman Dean Hilton, two cases involving Joey Carter in Duplin County, and a case involving the Sholar Farm from Sampson County, according to the article in Bladen Journal.
According to a NC Farm Families Facebook post on Friday, the judges grilled both sides with dozens of questions on legal issues that go to the heart of the case involving the Kinlaw farm. A large focus of the hearing was on three rulings by District Court Judge Earl Britt, including his decisions to allow testimony about the compensation of Smithfield’s top executives; to permit Shane Rogers, an associate professor at Clarkson University in New York, to testify about odor for the plaintiffs while preventing a nationally renowned odor expert from testifying about odor levels for Murphy-Brown; and to allow punitive damages that required a clear demonstration of willful and wanton misconduct.
Judges questioned attorneys about rulings that dictated which experts were allowed and which were not. NC Farm Families said one judge told the plaintiffs that “it seems like all of the evidentiary rulings went against your opponent,” noting he found some of those rulings “questionable."
The judges referenced the important role that hog farms play in supporting the economy and providing food for families.
But NC Farm Families pointed out there were also some incorrect assumptions made by the judges about what conditions are like on hog farms.
“Those comments were disheartening and indicate that we still have more work to do to clear up the misconceptions about our farms that have been repeatedly spread by the trial lawyers and activists behind these lawsuits,” NC Farm Families wrote. “We now sit and wait for a ruling. Our hope is still strong. And we will continue to share the truth, because hope is never silent.”
Listen to the audio from the hearing here: https://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/OAarchive/mp3/19-1019-20200131.mp3.
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