Hold Onto Your Hogs!

VICTORY ALERT: Great Rivers successfully squashes subpoena on behalf of longtime safe-agriculture activist.  

You know you’re doing something right when your kids gift you a megaphone for Mother’s Day. Karen Hudson, mother, educational activist, and recipient of said megaphone, had been standing up to factory farms for over twenty-five years. As Karen shares in a 2011 TED Talk, driven by a passion for safe agriculture cultivated while living on a 5th-generation family farm in central Illinois, in 1996, she founded Families Against Rural Messes (FARM) after an industrial dairy facility threatened the health of her town.  

Across the country, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), like the dairy facility that threatened Karen’s town, have become notorious for their alleged pollution of air, water and land. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, animal waste from CAFOs can “run off into surface waters, seep into groundwater, and produce noxious gases” that can “impact an entire community’s quality of life and mental health.” Furthermore, according to NRDC’s report on Harmful Algae Blooms, “CAFO waste that leaks, seeps and runs off into waterways is a major contributor to nutrient pollution, which feeds harmful algae blooms.” The Center for Disease Control reports that “repeated exposure to CAFO emissions can increase the likelihood of respiratory diseases.”  

Seeing these issues first-hand in her own town and hearing about CAFOs in nearby communities, Karen co-founded the Illinois Coalition for Clean Air and Water (ICCAW) to advocate for sound policies and practices that protect the environment, human health, and rural quality of life from the impacts of large-scale, industrialized livestock production facilities in Illinois. 

Though now in retirement, Karen recently came head-to-head again with factory farms recently when she was subpoenaed by an industrial livestock facility.  

In June of 2022, Karen, along with ICAAW and related organization Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP), were subpoenaed for privileged information by County Line Swine, an industrial swine farm and the defendant in a suit filed against the swine farm by neighbors of the facility.  

In the 2022 suit, Crystal and Randall Clair, organic farmers whose land neighbors the operation, and Shawn Peters, who lives across from the facility, allege that County Line Swine “intentionally and/or negligently [failed] to follow appropriate operating procedures,” for the facility, subjecting them to “frequent additional odor, particulate matter, discharges of hog manure and urine, other emissions, flies, insects and/or other pests.” The complaint claims that this caused “headaches, difficulty breathing, burning of the throat, and watery eyes,” and that “the nuisances and problems…[were] the direct result of Defendants’ intentional misconduct and/or negligent and improper operation, management, and maintenance of the CAFO, including the mishandling of waste produced by hogs and the disposal of carcasses of dead hogs.

Karen Hudson holding a sign from her original Families Against Rural Messes (FARM) campaign. (Source: nrdc.org)

The Plaintiffs’ suit further sues President and Secretary of County Line Swine Ragan Peter specifically for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The Clairs’ complaint alleges that Peter “attempted intimidation to silence any opposition…[Peter] accosted Crystal Clair at home, threatening, ‘If you continue to give me any trouble, your life and your livelihood will never be the same, because I’m going to bring the biggest and baddest pigs I can find.’” 

The Clairs were not the only citizens to note the impact of the facility. After receiving more than 45 complaints from properties surrounding the County Line Swine facility, the Illinois EPA inspected the facility. During the July 2020 inspection, according to the suit later filed by the Illinois Attorney General, against County Line Swine, Illinois EPA observed “livestock waste odor in air flow from the ventilation fans of the swine,” “mortality compost odor along the south side of the compost shed,” and “livestock odor along Illinois Route 61 at distances of approximately 1.0 and 1.2 miles from the facility.” Illinois EPA subsequently issued a violation notice to County Line Swine but continued to receive citizen complaints about the facility.  

According to the Clairs’ complaint, “unlike traditional pork farmers, County Line Swine is part of a system where a few large multinational corporations, known as ‘integrators,’ own the animals that are raised inside specific industrial CAFO sites.” (Image source: Canva.) 

As a result, in February of 2022, the Illinois Attorney General filed suit against County Line Swine in Adams County Circuit Court for “causing or allowing the emission of strong, persistent and offensive livestock odors from the Facility so as to injure human health and interfere with the use and enjoyment of neighboring properties” in violation of Illinois law. In that case, the Illinois Attorney General seeks orders from the court to require that County Line Swine “[undertakes] necessary corrective action that will result in a final and permanent abatement of violations” and pays civil penalties for all violations to the State. 

In the suit filed by the Clairs, County Line Swine served Karen Hudson, ICCAW and SRAP with subpoenas seeking communications between the third-parties and the Clairs and their attorneys. County Line Swine further sought a bevy of sensitive, confidential organizational documents from the two third-party organizations. These subpoenas were sent to Karen and the organizations despite the fact that County Line Swine did not first seek the same information and documents from the parties to the two cases.   

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center stepped up to defend Karen and ICCAW against the subpoenas. Great Rivers attorney Sarah Rubenstein, along with environmental attorney Albert Ettinger, representing SRAP, filed a motion to quash the subpoenas.  

The Motion to Quash asserted that the subpoenas were a “clear overreach beyond discovery of the subject matter” of the Clair case. Furthermore, the Motion asserts that the subpoenas were “unduly burdensome” to a third party, especially as “the Crystal Clair complaint does not mention SRAP, ICCAW, or Hudson, or has anything to do with SRAP, ICCAW, or Hudson.” The Motion points out that Karen, ICAAW and SRAP’s implication in the case was unnecessary, begging the question of why County Line Swine would subpoena them.  

Among the organizations subpoenaed was the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, or SRAP. (Source: SRAP.) 

The swine facility may have solicited an undue number of documents in the hopes of finding something in the ocean of information to support their defense. However, such “fishing expeditions” are not legal. As the Motion to Quash points out, third- party subpoena rights do not permit “compelling records for a general inspection, for fishing purposes, or with the view of finding evidence to be used in other suits of prosecutions,” as “a party may not dredge an ocean of electronically stored information and records in an effort to capture a few elusive, perhaps non-existent, fish.” (Quoting Tucker v Am. Intl’l Group, Inc., 281 F.R.D. 85, 95 (D. Conn. 2012)) 

The Motion to Quash further asserted that the information requested in the subpoenas was irrelevant. “The Defendant’s Subpoenas explicitly request communications that have nothing to do with even the County Line Swine operation or even with operations in Illinois.” As the Motion contended, “defendants want to use the Subpoenas as an opportunity to access SRAP, ICCAW, and Karen Hudson’s files well beyond the scope of the underlying litigation.”  

In response to the strong evidence provided, Karen, ICCAW and SRAP’s Motion to Quash was granted. In doing so, the Court found that the requests contained in the subpoenas were “overbroad in that they seek an extremely expansive amount of information from non-parties.” Ten paragraphs of requests were found to be “not relevant to the issues, claims and defenses asserted.”

The court noted that “before anyone, party or non-party, can be forced to submit to a deposition, the evidence that is sought must be relevant.”  

Great Rivers is equipped to stand up to subpoenas on behalf of environmental individuals and organizations. With your support, we can continue defending those who defend our people and planet.  

(Header image via Canva.)

Eva Kappas is a student at Brown University studying International and Public Affairs and Hispanic Studies. A native St. Louisan, Eva is invested in protecting the people and places she calls home. She is excited by the potential to transform our electrical grid with renewable energy. In her free time, she can be found running in Forest Park, writing short stories, and practicing Spanish with her friends and family.

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