ACLU to Defend Iowa Farm Families in Lawsuits Against Hog Factories

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
June 30, 1999 12:00 am

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DES MOINES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa today announced that it will provide legal assistance to people around the state who could be prevented from maintaining lawsuits against neighboring hog factories that pollute their environment.

Last year, the Iowa Legislature expanded legal protections for factory-style hog farms, giving them virtually complete immunity from any lawsuits. But the ACLU says that the law violates both the Iowa and Federal Constitutions by depriving Iowans of their centuries-old common law rights to sue in court to protect their own homes.

In the first case to be filed, the ACLU will help represent a number of longtime Clay County farm families who face an environmental threat from plans to build and operate a “hog factory” above a shallow, easily polluted aquifer. All of the families draw their drinking water from the aquifer, which currently provides some of the purest water in the state.

“For the last decade, our legislators have been busy crafting a two-tiered society consisting of those who have the right to exploit or inflict injuries upon others and those who aren’t allowed to do anything about it,” said Randall C. Wilson, an attorney for the Clay County families and ACLU of Iowa Legal Director.

“Where do you suppose most of us fit in?” he added. “This is a trend of the fundamental concern for a society built on the concepts of equality and the elimination of the aristocracy.”

The ACLU noted that this sort of immunity has become a trend in medical malpractice, environmental litigation, product liability, and other fields; it is working to curb the granting of such immunities to wealthy or powerful interests that wish to be free from lawsuits.

According to the ACLU’s complaint, Carroll Foods, Inc., which has had operational problems in its home state of North Carolina, applied for a permit to build the Clay County facility after North Carolina imposed a moratorium on construction of large-scale hog confinement operations.

In a virtually unprecedented move, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which routinely grants permits for facilities on request, denied Carroll Foods permission to build the Clay County facility, citing factors such as the fragility of the underlying aquifer. Carroll Foods responded by lowering the claimed capacity of its new facility to a point just below the licensing threshold, thereby eliminating the need for state approval.

Attempts to resolve problems through statutorily required mediation were unsuccessful.

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