A while back, I blogged on the attempt by members of the Maryland legislature to strip funding for the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic because of the clinic’s lawsuit (representing numerous plaintiffs) against Perdue and some local chicken producers. The suit arose from the chicken operation’s runoff (allegedly) befouling the Chesapeake Bay. Perdue spun the suit as an assault against family farming. Members of the legislature flew into a tizzy and excoriated the clinic for helping its clients pursue their rights under the Clean Water Act. Thankfully, rational minds prevailed and the threat to kill the clinic’s funding was itself killed.
Now, I am pleased to report that the plaintiffs have won an important initial victory in the lawsuit against Perdue, et.al. Judge Nickerson, hearing the case in federal court in Maryland, has denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He also refused to excuse Perdue as a defendant. Perdue had argued that it could not be liable because it did not own the operation in question — that it merely contracted with the local producers and thus had no responsibility for any damages. The judge rejected this argument, noting that one can be held liable under the the Clean Water Act simply for exercising control over the offending work. Since the suit alleges that Perdue dictates the conditions under which its birds are to be raised, it is therefore potentially accountable for any damages caused by those conditions.
This is an important procedural victory. As Jane F. Barrett, director of the University of Maryland’s environmental law clinic notes, the ruling marks the first a federal court has stated a poultry company could be held liable for the actions of its contract growers (although there have been similar rulings in state courts in Alabama and Kentucky).
Let us hope that this ruling forms part of an auspicious trend portending a successful end to the case.
h/t Jill Gross
Filed under: animal advocacy, animal law, animal welfare, environmental law, factory farms | Tagged: animal advocacy, animal law, animal welfare, battery cages, Chesapeake Bay, Clean Water Act, environmental advocacy, environmental law, factory farms, farmed animals, hens, industrial farming, Judge Nickerson, Perdue, University of Maryland, University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic |