Fayetteville Today

Fayetteville Today

Monday, April 6, 2020

Pork producers appeal $3.25 million award to neighbors of N.C. hog farm

Regulation

By Charmaine Little | Feb 10, 2020

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More than half of a $3.25 million jury award issued to the neighbors of a massive corporate-run hog farm is at risk, according to the Charlotte Observer. 

The largest pork producer in the world, Smithfield Foods, recently challenged the multi-million dollar award for neighbors of its North Carolina operation run by subsidiary Murphy-Brown. A jury in the U.S. District Court in Raleigh had previously ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in their lawsuit against Murphy-Brown.

The company was accused of infringing on the well-being of homeowners living near the farm by producing bad smells, flies, buzzards and heavy truck traffic in the area due to the hog-farming operations. After numerous trials in 2018 and 2019, three dozen plaintiffs were awarded nearly 450 million, which was lowered to $98 million because of a North Carolina law that puts a ceiling on punitive damages.

The case of McKiver, et. al. v. Murphy-Brown featured 10 plaintiffs from White Oak who accused the defendant of infringing on their quality of life when independent contractor Billy Kinlaw flushed pig feces and urine from the barns into nearby lagoons. He subsequently used the waste as fertilizer, leading the plaintiffs to claim he emitted a “noxious and sickening odor” that caused them to feel sick, according to Charlotte Observer. 

Murphy-Brown attorney Stuart Raphael argued that the $750,000 in actual damages and $50 million in punitive damages was way too high and even downplayed the severity of the odor, according to Charlotte Observer. Senior District Judge W. Earl Britt lowered the punitive amount to $2.5 million.

During the first appeal last month, Fourth Circuit Judge Harvie Wilkinson III called out Kinlaw's conduct.

“If this were my property, I would be outraged at some of these conditions," Wilkinson said. "And less fortunate fellow citizens, they have property rights, too. . . . They have a right to good health, and they have a right to enjoyment of their property.”

It's up to the Fourth Circuit court to determine if the remaining cases against Murphy-Brown will continue. As of now, 500 state residents have filed 26 lawsuits against the company.

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