A Maryland farmer who raises chickens for poultry giant Perdue Farms did not discharge pollution into a nearby river, a federal judge ruled Thursday in a case that had been closely watched by environmentalists and the poultry industry.We've seen this lawsuit developing for some time now, and it has all the hallmarks of a serious abuse of the legal system. First, the UMD legal clinic joined the Waterkeepers on the suit, effectively putting at least some of the resources of the state behind the private suit. Then we found out that the suit was based on fallacious grounds; the alleged chicken litter that the Waterkeepers sued over turned out to be treated biosolids from Ocean City. The suit continued on the grounds that traces of chicken litter might have escaped from exhaust fans at the chicken houses or by foot prints! The judge threatened to hold force the Waterkeepers and their co-litigators responsible for the court costs if they lost. I will be pleased and amused if he follows through.
U.S. District Judge William Nickerson sided with Alan Hudson in a 50-page ruling, saying a New York-based environmental group that sued the farmer and Perdue for pollution had failed to prove its case.
The organization, Waterkeeper Alliance, alleged that chicken litter from the Hudson Farm in Berlin was discharged into a river that ultimately flows into the Chesapeake Bay, and that Perdue, which owns the chickens and monitors their growth, should be responsible for the pollution.
Nickerson said that while he agreed the bay was a vital resource of the state, and that citizens should feel empowered to protect the waterway in instances when regulators won't or can't, legal challenges must be brought "responsibly and effectively."
"The court finds that in this action, for whatever reason, Waterkeeper did not meet that obligation," Nickerson wrote.
He chastised the group for bringing the lawsuit without doing adequate sampling to identify the source of the pollution, saying that given the amount of time and resources spent on the court case, it was indefensible that Waterkeeper "would not have conducted the straightforward testing and sampling that could have established a discharge from the poultry operation, if there was such a discharge."