Score one for the livestock industry. A federal judge in Tampa, Florida has dismissed a major environmental class action lawsuit against Smithfield Foods filed by the Waterkeeper Alliance, led by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and about 35 other environmental groups.

During a series of news conferences last year, Kennedy announced his intention to use this and other lawsuits as a means of "shutting down Smithfield's farm operations." This was just the first of many corporate pork operations targeted by the Waterkeeper Alliance.

In dismissing the lawsuit, which sought damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich took the unusual step of ordering that the plaintiffs' attorneys pay Smithfield’s attorneys fees and costs.

“No reasonable attorney ... could reasonably believe that (the lawsuit) had any reasonable chance of success,” Kovachevich wrote in an opinion issued on June 24, 2002. The “Plaintiffs' ... Complaint failed to state anything at all.”

The lawsuit, filed in February 200l, sought damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It was brought under RICO, the Federal Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organization statute, which was enacted in the 1970's to prosecute big-time mobsters. It has since been broadened to include businesses.

“This was a great day for Smithfield and the entire U. S. swine industry,” company spokesman Will Allcott told Pork (a sister publication of Dairy Herd Management). “It was a positive development that beats back one attack in Bobby Kennedy’s battle to drive pork production out of this country and into Mexico.”

In tossing out the suit, the judge said the plaintiffs failed to prove how the company’s actions damaged their property. Then she took the unusual step of ordering the plaintiffs’ attorneys to pay Smithfield’s attorneys’ fees and costs. “We are now discussing how much to request,” said Allcott.

"This was a case where overzealous lawyers got carried away and filed a suit that had no basis,” said Richard J.M. Poulson, Smithfield Foods’ executive vice president and senior advisor to the chairman. “It is gratifying that the Court recognized this and ordered sanctions.”

Other environmental lawsuits against two of Smithfield’s farms are to be heard in the Eastern North Carolina Federal Court in the Fall of 2003. They were filed under the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

“We feel confident of the outcomes of both,” Smithfield’s Allcott told Pork.

PRNewswire