Perdue Farms is seeking up to $2.5 million in attorney fees following its victory in a poultry pollution case that had been closely watched by environmentalist and agriculture interests for its potential impact on the industry, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday.
The poultry giant is seeking to recoup attorney fees from the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, which sued the company and an Eastern Shore contract grower, Perdue spokeswoman Julie DeYoung said.
The poultry giant said in its filing U.S. District Court in Baltimore that the environmental group continued to litigate what it called a groundless case after learning that an uncovered pile of what was claimed to be chicken manure turned out to be harmless. The company also said the court had noted that while defendants are “not normally entitled to recover their legal fees, such an award would not be unprecedented.”
A telephone call and email by The Associated Press seeking comment from the alliance was not immediately returned. Jane Barrett, director of the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic, said the motions were not unusual or unexpected. The clinic, which is representing the alliance in the case, would respond, Barrett said.
A federal judge ruled last month that farmer Alan Hudson, who raises chickens on his Berlin farm for Perdue, did not pollute a nearby river as the environmental group claimed. U.S. District Judge William Nickerson ruled the alliance failed to prove its case.
The alliance argued that Perdue, which owns the chickens and monitors their growth, should also be held responsible.
The case was filed after the alliance flew over the farm in 2009 and photographed what it believed was an uncovered pile of chicken manure and later found water samples in the area containing high bacteria levels. The pile turned out not to be chicken manure. The group later blamed nearby water pollution on fans that ventilate the two chicken houses and traffic in and out of the houses, which can hold about 80,000 birds.
The poultry industry has more than 1,600 family farms on the Eastern Shore. Agriculture interests said a ruling against Perdue and the farm could have been catastrophic to farmers and the industry.
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