McKiver v. Murphy-Brown
Hundreds of mostly Black and brown community members in Eastern North Carolina won a series of mass action lawsuits against Smithfield for the public nuisance caused by factory hog farms. It was a historic victory. Smithfield’s farms produce copious amounts of animal waste, burdening neighbors with horrific odors and unbreathable air. It is no accident that these communities are comprised mostly of people of color. Local grassroots groups have been organizing against corporate hog production since it began in their backyards and remain at the forefront of the environmental justice movement. In partnership with these communities, law firm Wallace & Graham secured $453.5 million in damages for ten plaintiffs in just the first suit.
Smithfield appealed the verdicts, claiming that contract grower Kinlaw Farms should have been party to the lawsuit. But Kinlaw Farms, which Smithfield contracted to grow hogs for them, had no say in how the hogs were raised. Smithfield wanted to advance the false narrative that the lawsuit attacked family farmers, when in reality it challenged the harmful industrial practices they impose onto contract growers.
Public Justice filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs to explain why Smithfield, and only Smithfield, should be held liable for their dirty practices. Smithfield completely controls how contract growers farm – from what they feed to their animals to how they dispose of their waste. By providing the court with these facts, Public Justice showed why plaintiffs were right to exclude Kinlaw Farms from the original lawsuits and hold Smithfield accountable for their abusive practices.
The Fourth Circuit agreed, solidifying the communities’ historic victory and making Smithfield pay for their dirty practices.