Perdue Farms and the family farmer who prevailed over environmentalists in a key water pollution lawsuit are trying to win at least $3 million in attorney fees. In federal court filings, Perdue said it spent $2.5 million on the case and farmer Alan Hudson said his bills totaled at least $500,000. Hudson’s lawyer, George F. Ritchie, wrote the lawsuit and trial did “nothing but demonstrate the irresponsible and frivolous nature of Plaintiff’s claims.”The Waterkeepers clearly intended to bully the Hudson farm into settling, after the Waterkeeper's initial claims proved to be unfounded. If they had slunk away in shame at that point, they would not be facing such a massive lawsuit.
The lawsuit was initiated in 2009 by the Assateague Coastkeeper, alleging Hudson’s Wicomico County farm polluted ditches that drain to the Pocomoke River and the Chesapeake Bay.
The case, which was carried forward by the Waterkeeper Alliance after the Coastkeeper was dismissed, alleged at first the farm had a pile of chicken manure stored outside. After the pile was determined to be sludge from the Ocean City sewage plant, the Waterkeeper Alliance instead focused on smaller potential sources of pollution, such as ventilation fans and foot traffic.
The waterkeepers hoped to prove a federal Clean Water Act violation on the farm and to prove that Salisbury-based Perdue should be responsible for pollution by its contract farmers such as Hudson. If the waterkeepers had been successful, it could have triggered major changes in large-scale poultry farming, which is a dominant industry on the Delmarva Peninsula.
U.S. District Judge William Nickerson ruled against the waterkeepers in late December. In his written opinion, the judge criticized the waterkeepers for pursuing the case. In an earlier ruling in the case, Nickerson reminded both sides that he could award attorney’s fees to Perdue and Hudson if he ruled against the waterkeepers.
Perdue’s lawyers wrote it would be “reasonable and fair” for the company to be able to recoup the $2.5 million it spent on the lawsuit. Though Hudson is seeking at least $500,000, the Hudson family’s legal bills were covered by a fundraising effort.
Last week I said that the Waterkeepers may come to regret this action. It's looking more likely.