Federal Jury Declares Calif. Egg Farm a Nuisance, Awards Damages

Neighbors to be paid more than $500,000

 A federal jury in California ruled in favor of a group of Central Valley residents after a week-long trial. The case concerned noxious emissions from a massive factory egg farm that confines more than 600,000 birds in cramped cages.

The Humane Society of the United States and local residents filed the case in 2008, alleging that the horrific stench and painful effects of ammonia and other noxious emissions from the facility’s 13-acre liquid manure cesspool was destroying the local community.

The jury verdict, issued Tuesday evening, declared Olivera Egg Ranch a nuisance under California law, and ordered the operator to pay neighboring residents more than $500,000 in damages.

Air pollution and liquid waste

“The day of reckoning has finally come for one of the Central Valley’s most notorious air polluters,” said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for Animal Protection Litigation at The HSUS. “This facility crams hundreds of thousands of hens into tiny wire cages on just a few acres—day after day, year after year. The result is massive air pollution and liquid waste, and unimaginable suffering for both the animals inside and the people outside in the community.”

Olivera dumps approximately 133,000 pounds of manure from its caged hens every day into golf-course-sized cesspools that release large amounts of ammonia and other noxious gases.

Ammonia is classified as an “extremely hazardous substance.” Inhalation of concentrated ammonia can cause irritation, lung damage, and even death to humans, and it causes chronic stress to farm animals. Ammonia can also stimulate excessive algae growth in water, degrading habitat for fish and other aquatic species.

Not a spotless past

In February of 2009, the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District issued six notices of violation against Olivera related to its failure to obtain permits that could have lead to better waste handling practices. Olivera has also been sanctioned more than $143,057 by the court for willfully destroying evidence related to air pollution on its property after the lawsuit was filed.

The case was heard by a jury and before U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez in Sacramento. The plaintiffs in the case are represented by the law offices of Charlie Speer in Kansas City, Mo., and Richard H. Middleton in Savannah, Ga., and attorneys with The HSUS’ animal protection litigation section.

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