Fifth hog nuisance lawsuit delayed by government shutdown

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Source: Bladen Journal

The fifth of 26 hog nuisance lawsuits has been delayed by the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Judge Earl Britt, back on the bench after sitting out the fourth of the lawsuits, gave the order Thursday. The U.S. District Court judge said jury pay could not be guaranteed beyond next week.

When funding is appropriated, the case will be rescheduled.

Last week, the shutdown forced the chief judge of Manhattan federal courts to suspend work on civil cases involving U.S. government lawyers. A similar order affects federal courts in northern Ohio, the Associated Press reported.

In winning the first four cases, plaintiffs have been awarded $549,352,400 by juries. North Carolina law caps punitive damage amounts, reducing that figure to $97,982,400.

The four cases involved two with ties to Bladen County. The next case is to be the second involving the Joey Carter Farm near Beulaville.

The most recent case, involving Sholar Farm in Sampson County, was the best showing yet for Smithfield Foods, the parent company of named defendant Murphy-Brown. In that case, Judge David Faber presided and cited a lack of evidence for punitive damages, resulting in eight plaintiffs splitting $102,400.

Four awards were for $100 each, a far cry from the half a billion dollars awarded in the first three cases when Britt presided.

In addition to the change on the bench, the other significant change in the most recent trial was Smithfield Foods bringing in Robert Thackston, a lawyer based in Texas with ties to North Carolina. McGuireWoods, which led the first three cases, remains a part of the company’s counsel.

Plaintiffs are represented by Michael Kaeske, the Texas lawyer who came to North Carolina and cherry-picked neighbors of select farms contracted by Smithfield Foods.

The first of the 26 cases involved Kinlaw Farms, owned by Billy Kinlaw along N.C. 53 in Bladen County where about 15,000 pigs were being raised. The jury on April 26 said 10 neighbors were to be awarded $50.75 million, an amount reduced to $3.25 million by the punitive damages law.

The first case of the Joey Carter Farm ended June 29, with plaintiffs Elvis and Vonnie Williams awarded $25.13 million — $65,000 each in compensatory damages, $12.5 million each in punitive damages. The punitive cap, $250,000 each, put their combined award from the jury at $630,000.

Pender County farms involving Elizabethtown-based HD3 Farms of the Carolinas’ subsidiary Greenwood Livestock LLC, owned by White Lake businessman Dean Hilton, were involved in the third lawsuit. A judgment of $473.5 million on Aug. 3 included $450 million in punitive damages and $23.5 million in compensatory damages. State law reduced the combined amount to $94 million.

HD3 Farms has operations in Bladen, Sampson, Robeson, Scotland, Columbus, Duplin, Hoke and Pender counties.

Each of the three cases were appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

Duplin, Sampson and Bladen counties are the leaders in hog production for the state, and rank among the top 15 in the nation. The industry provides 46,000 jobs and is worth $11 billion in North Carolina, which is second only to Iowa in hog production.

Thackston is a partner with Hawkins, Parnell, Thackston & Young, a firm with offices coast to coast. The product of UNC’s School of Law is based in Dallas; licensed to practice in state and federal courts in Texas, North Carolina, California, Illinois, Virginia and New York; and in appeals courts for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, and the 5th Circuit in New Orleans.

Kaeske, owner of a law firm in Austin, Texas, is a former member of the Dallas law firm suing Chemours, the chemical plant at the Bladen-Cumberland county line that produces the GenX compound.

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