Lendora Farland is nicknamed “Sunshine,” but her testimony last month in federal court illustrated the misery her family has endured, caused, she said, by the stench and flies from a nearby industrialized hog farm in Duplin County.
“The smell is like when a baby has a fever and diarrhea,” Farland, who is a certified nursing assistant, testified. “And when I’m cooking dinner — pork chops, I like them, yes I do — I don’t want to eat with that smell.”
Farland’s affection for pork chops drove home the point that the plaintiffs in all of the hog nuisance cases don’t think Murphy-Brown, which owns the pigs, should go out of business, But the billion-dollar company should change how disposes of the millions of gallons of hog feces and urine. In each case, plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued that Murphy-Brown and its parent company, Smithfield, could choose to eliminate the antiquated waste lagoon and sprayfield system, but to avoid denting their corporate profit margins, have not.
On Friday, a jury awarded 10 plaintiffs a total of $420,000 in compensatory and punitive damages in a hog nuisance trial against Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.
Punitive damages are awarded when a jury determines a defendant “committed fraud, or acted with malice or engaged in willful or wanton conduct.”Murphy-Brown has lost all five of the nuisance cases in federal district court, with gross damages totaling $550.5 million. Because of a state cap on punitive awards, the net payout is $97.2 million.
Smithfield hasn’t paid these damages, pending the company’s appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
However, in another setback for the company, Senior District Court Judge Earl Britt denied Murphy-Brown’s request for a new trial in the third case, in which the jury awarded six plaintiffs an historic $475 million. (Britt reduced the amount to $94.5 million.) Britt also denied two other motions related to that case: One filed by Murphy-Brown to erase the punitive damages, and a second filed by the plaintiff’s attorneys to lift the cap on punitive damages, on constitutional grounds.You’re damn right I get mad Click To Tweet
While the jury deliberated, 100 miles to the southeast, the air in Warsaw stunk. The water was clammy, and carried the acrid odor from nearby swine farms, waste lagoons and sprayfields, depositing it outside the REACH office on Ward’s Bridge Road.
Members of the community group REACH (Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help) and the Duke University Law and Policy Clinic were leading a bus tour of Duplin County affected by industrialized livestock operations: Not just hogs, but also poultry and cattle. Many of those on the tour, primarily environmental law students, had never witnessed, up close, anyway, enormous spray guns spewing geysers of waste onto fields — and the cows grazing on them.
(The former head of the EPA’s environmental justice program, Mustafa Santiago Ali was also on the tour, but he is well-acquainted with the issue.)
Until Friday, many had not seen a lagoon filled nearly to its berm. Many had not seen homes so close — a half-mile or less — to these enormous operations.