One of the largest civil suits in Henderson County has been happening in the 392nd District court for the past three weeks, with District Judge Scott McKee presiding.
After a long deliberation, things were finally brought to a close late Friday night, when the jury found in favor of the Plaintiff's and awarded damages in excess of $6 million.
Plaintiffs filed a suit against Huynh Poultry Farms, T&N Poultry farm and Sanderson Farms for excessive noise and smell nuisances and a decrease in property value, and property enjoyment according to public documents. They are seeking the recovery of damages to their property in the form of monetary relief exceeding $1,000,000.
According to public court documents
“Plaintiffs claim that they live in the community of Malakoff because they enjoy the “peace, quiet and beauty of clean country living” all of which they enjoyed until the new neighbors came to town. They feel this has since been destroyed since mid 2016. Exhaust fans, machinery, and other noises fill the air now according to the group. One claimed earplugs were needed to enjoy their property.
The neighbors started a 16 barn chicken farm with each having the potential to hold 27,000 chickens. In a year, this could mean upwards of 1.728 million chickens per year, according to public record.
The defendants attorney's claimed that you could only hear birds and crickets.
The neighbors complained the farm emits sickening odors, and harmful gases from decomposition, spoilage, sulfides, ammonia, methanes and carbon monoxide to name a few. According to the cause, Most of these are unpleasant, but some in larger concentrations are life threatening.
In the closing arguments for the defendants, their attorney said that the wind according to testimony only traveled the direction of the plaintiffs 14.2% of the time, which hardly qualifies as a “substantial nuisance” which he also stated was difficult to prove. A bad odor was not enough to qualify as such. He also stated according to one expert witness, that out of 27-30 chicken farms he had visited that the farms in question met and exceeded the management standards.
The plaintiffs' claim are also that they can spread viruses and bacterial fragments, endotoxins and heavy metals. The manure can contain various harmful things as well, including hormones, pathogens, and heavy metals such as arsenic. Arsenic can be used to increase growth and for controlling internal parasites. They also were upset over the potential environmental aspects of the manure to spread into water supplies, increase pest issues and noise pollution.
One alleged violation, 30 Texas Administrative code 101.4 in 2016 states:
“No person shall discharge from any source whatsoever one or more air contaminants or combinations thereof, in such a concentration and of such duration as are or may tend to be injurious to or adversely affect human health, or welfare, animal life, vegetation or property” or to interfere with the normal use and enjoyment of those things.
In February 2017, Huynh Farms was later investigated for an illegal burn containing PVC, plastic and other unauthorized items according to the cause.
The plaintiffs claimed:
”Defendants actions and inactions, and failures to use ordinary care and sensibilities and failures to act like a good neighbor, have resulted in significant damages to plaintiffs, their lives, their families, their qualities of life, their peaceful enjoyment of their land, and their property, both real and personal. In addition to the peaceful enjoyment of their land it has greatly diminished in value. It has caused physical damage to plaintiff's property, economic harm to the plaintiffs property's market value, harm to the plaintiff's health, and psychological harm to the plaintiff's peace of mind in the use and enjoyment of their property.”
According to another expert witness, property values have not decreased according to Henderson County Appraisal District, and only one property sold in the area since 2016 saw a 15% reduction in value, but that it was due to road placement.
In response to the complaints of smell, Huynh wrote the plaintiff's a letter stating he would increase A7 usage, a wetting agent and detergent, in order to cut down on the smell. Additional measures the farm reportedly took to counteract the air pollution was using 20% sawdust replaced every flock, 70%-80% of bedding replaced every other flock, fresh pine shavings used for compost instead of chicken litter, and Sanderson Farms will not allow farms to sell litter to neighboring farms for fertilizer. They increased A7 usage to include the whole barn instead of one end of it. Service techs are also employed two times a day five days a week.
Sanderson Farms according to closing arguments, encourage cleaner farms in order to produce healthier chickens.
He finished off his closing argument by asking if you cannot have a chicken farm on a Farm to Market road, where can you have one?
The Plaintiffs attorney then made his rebuttal, listing the numerous rules and violations the defendants have made in the plaintiffs opinion, and expressed shock at the audacity to claim the plaintiffs were not credible.
Sanderson Farms is planning on building another farm in the Tyler area, but as of now the location is still being negotiated.
Over 10 attorneys, numerous legal assistants, nine plaintiffs 10 defendants 12 jurors, two backup jurors and a Judge went over the case for the past three weeks.
The Athens Review reached out to both parties and was unable to get a response at this time. We will update when further information becomes available.