Aside of $28,000 in court costs, Hudson Family Farm of Eastern Shore Maryland and Perdue Farms Inc. won't be able to recoup some $3 million in legal fees incurred during their four-year court battle with Waterkeeper Alliance. That's the bottom line of Maryland Federal District Court Judge William Nickerson's Tuesday ruling.
"On behalf of Alan and Kristen Hudson and family farms across Maryland and the country, we're disappointed that the judge chose not to hold the Waterkeepers accountable by making them responsible for the financial costs of their misguided lawsuit," responded Perdue spokeswoman Julie DeYoung. "While disappointed in his decision, we were pleased that the judge reiterated his distress at the misrepresentations by Waterkeeper Alliance Scott Edwards and Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips."
Pleased by Nickerson's ruling, Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi had this to say: "Alarmingly high" levels of pollution were coming off the farm and harming the [Chesapeake] Bay. Citizen enforcement suits "help safeguard environmental and public health." And he maintains that the federal Clean Water Act was written to encourage citizens' groups to bring lawsuits to enforce the law.
In his ruling, Judge Nickerson wrote: "The court concluded that, while alarmingly high levels of fecal coliform, E. coli, nitrogen and phosphorus had been discharged from Hudson's farm, and that at least some of those contaminants would reach the Pocomoke River, (the Waterkeeper Alliance) had not met its burden of establishing that the poultry operation contributed to these discharges." Nickerson then noted that cow manure from the Hudson's beef cattle operation was the only proven source of discharge.
He also pointed out that the plaintiffs (Waterkeeper Alliance and the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic) were not interested in working toward a settlement that would have had a positive impact on the Bay. According to Maryland Family Farmers Legal Defense Fund leaders, they pursued their agenda, putting a farm family through hell and doing nothing to benefit the environment.
This decision, notes a SaveFarmFamilies statement, shows how difficult it is for wronged parties to recover legal costs, proving the need for an agricultural law clinic to support family farmers. That's why www.savefarmfamilies.org was established. "We urge the Maryland legislature to continue to work to assure the creation of a strong legal advocate for Maryland family farmers."
George Ritchie, the Hudsons' attorney, says he plans to pursue state reimbursement for at least some of the $500,000 in fees he asked the court to award.