by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Recently, a panel of judges in Richmond, Virginia heard oral arguments in the case, Joyce McKiver, et. al. v. Murphy-Brown, LLC. As Alan Wooten explains in his recent Bladen Journal article, the case is a compilation of hog nuisance lawsuits in North Carolina. The way the court rules could have a major impact on the agriculture industry – and Bladen County in particular – as 44 percent of people in Bladen County work in some capacity of the pork industry. Wooten explains:
The panel heard from counsel representing both plaintiffs and Murphy-Brown, the subsidiary of Smithfield Foods named as defendant in all five cases heard thus far. Judgments before punitive damage law kicks in from the juries has totaled $549,772,400. The punitive damage law reduces that amount, including compensatory amounts, to $97.9 million.
The case has received scrutiny for not providing the defendants an opportunity to submit adequate evidence. Wooten writes:
[Judge Earl Britt] allowed testimony about compensation of Smithfield’s top executives; he permitted testimony for the plaintiffs about odor from an expert but did not allow a different expert to testify for the defendants; and the definition of “willful and wanton misconduct” as he applied it to cases.
Wooten quotes a column JLF’s Dr. Don van der Vaart wrote about the case earlier this month:
Unclear, as [Dr. van der Vaart] wrote, is “whether neighbors of the targeted farms complained to DEQ, whether DEQ sent their trained odor inspectors to investigate, whether the farms were cited for violating the rules, and whether additional controls were imposed on the farms to prevent odors.”
Whatever the ruling, North Carolina has a large stake in the outcome. Wooten writes:
A 2019 report by Dr. Kelly Zering at N.C. State says the pigs and pork production industry is valued at $13 billion in North Carolina, with full-time job equivalencies of more than 43,000.