The number of plaintiffs suing to abolish North Dakota's anti-corporate farming law has expanded and now includes people and companies with ties to four U.S. states and a former Soviet republic.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is defending the law, said the addition of plaintiffs only exacerbates problems with what he considers an overly vague lawsuit.
The North Dakota Farm Bureau, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a Wisconsin dairy company that wants to expand into North Dakota sued in federal court in June. They want a judge to declare unconstitutional the nearly century-old law that aims to protect the state's family farming heritage by barring large corporations from owning agricultural operations.
The original plaintiffs were recently joined by: 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.
The new plaintiffs either didn't respond to messages seeking comment this week or referred calls to attorneys. Attorney Claire Smith did not respond to questions other than to say the additional plaintiffs help "demonstrate the negative impacts of the challenged legislation."
The lawsuit asserts that North Dakota's anti-corporate farming law hurts the agriculture industry by restricting business tools available to farmers, lowering the value of their operations, discriminating against residents of other states and interfering with interstate commerce. It asks a judge to declare the law unconstitutional and bar the state attorney general from enforcing it.
Stenehjem has said the lawsuit is too vague for him to even respond, and he's asked U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland to order the plaintiffs to more specifically detail why they believe the law is unconstitutional. Stenehjem has said in court filings that the state is "requesting reasonably" that the plaintiffs identify what specific problems they allege in a chapter of law that "consists of over 6,500 words and comprises over 100 individually numbered provisions in the North Dakota Century Code."
Stenehjem said in court documents filed Wednesday that the addition of four more plaintiffs "exponentially exacerbates the ambiguities and vagueness" of the lawsuit.
"Farm Bureau's amended complaint fails to separate which specific constitutional claims and counts are attributed to what individual plaintiff, as well as which allegations of fact are intended to support which count or constitutional claim by what plaintiff," he said.
Plaintiffs' attorneys have said Stenehjem has demonstrated that he understands why the lawsuit is being challenged and that he has enough information to file an initial response.
Hovland has not yet ruled on Stenehjem's request.