North Carolina judge dismisses lawsuit against Smithfield, Murphy-BrownNorth Carolina judge dismisses lawsuit against Smithfield, Murphy-Brown
Plaintiffs had contended that transportation of swine and feed had caused noise, dust and liquid to enter their properties.
August 23, 2023
A North Carolina federal judge recently sided with defendants Murphy-Brown and Smithfield Foods in granting their motion for summary judgement against nearly 20 plaintiffs that alleged trespass and negligence over hog waste spray, smells and flies from one of its Duplin County sites. According to case documents filed, a summary judgment is applicable when the court “determines that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
In his ruling in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Judge James C. Dever III stated as with the trespass claims, “plaintiffs have failed to produce evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact that defendants were the proximate cause of plaintiffs' injury.” The judge noted that even after examining the case in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, they have “failed to present any non-speculative or non-conclusory evidence establishing what substances are allegedly injuring them and who or what caused them to be on plaintiffs' property.”
Murphy-Brown and Smithfield Foods argued in their defense that the plaintiffs had not presented any evidence of ''unauthorized entry," and had also failed to testify about any physical intrusion onto their property. The defendants also said the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that defendants caused any intrusion, noting an "absence of expert evidence” linking the Vestal Farms’ facilities or trucks to their complaints.
In the lawsuit filed May 2020, the plaintiffs contended that they didn’t need experts because they had seen "liquid or juice coming out of defendants' trucks off Highway 50" and "saw the muck rain down" from defendants' spraying operations.
However, in his ruling the judge noted that some plaintiffs admitted they have never found traces of particles or are unaware if particles from the defendants came to rest on their property.
“Several plaintiffs suggest that defendants' trucks cause an unidentified ‘dust' to come onto the property. Although plaintiffs speculate that some kind of hog material is mixed in this dust, plaintiffs fail to identify what the hog material is,” Judge Dever states. “Moreover, plaintiffs offer no evidence that this dust comes specifically from defendants' trucks and not other sources, such as the road, neighboring fields, trucks not belonging to the defendant, or the myriad of sources of dust in rural North Carolina.”
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