Back in the day, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) warned states to avoid passing what the some people called “ag-gag” laws. HSUS said “ag-gag” laws involved three elements:
- a ban on taking photos or video of a factory farm without permission,
- making it a crime for an investigator to get work (by falsifying a job application) at a factory farm, and
- requiring quick mandatory reporting without time to document the pattern of abuse.
As HSUS and allies like the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) waged legal warfare against states that opted to erect barriers to protect animal agriculture, the battles evolved. ALDF sued states, knocking down large segments of ag-gag laws as unconstitutional.
Some states responded with new twists. One of those was to take the protection animal agriculture wants outside of criminal statutes entirely. Arkansas made it a new civil cause of action. A bench trial, starting as early as Nov. 9, 2020, will determine if this new civil approach works in federal court.
But the State of Arkansas is not named in the lawsuit. Instead, Jonathan and DeAnn Vaught, owners of Prayer Creek Farm and Peco Foods Inc., are the only ones being sued by the activists. The plaintiffs are four national groups led by the ALDF that the defense says are “dedicated to advancing their vision of how farms and meat processing plants should be operated.”
The four animal groups sued Tuscaloosa, AL-based Peco Foods Inc., after requesting access to its Pocahontas, AR, processing plant, and demanding the company waive its legal rights under the new Arkansas law.
When the deadline they imposed passed without Peco submitting, the animal groups last June 25 sued in federal district court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Assigned to the case is Judge James “Jay” Maxwell Moody Jr.
“This lawsuit is not the result of any actual dispute between any of the plaintiffs and defendant Peco Foods Inc, resulting from anything Peco has done to any of the plaintiffs but because of what they think Peco might do,” Peco attorneys said in demanding the dismissal of the federal lawsuit.
“Plaintiffs seek an advisory opinion that if plaintiffs undertake certain action targeted at Peco, and if they succeed, and if Peco is damaged as a result, and if Peco elects to sue one or more plaintiffs according to the cause of action provided by (the Trespass Statute), then the First and Fourteenth Amendments will have been violated,” their motion to dismiss continues.
“However, a bunch of ‘ifs’ does not create a valid case or controversy that Article III would permit this court to resolve,” it adds.
But so far, the lawsuit has not been dismissed. Instead, the court is working with both sides on discovery deadlines,
The Vaught-owned Prayer Creek Farm was named as a defendant because Rep. DeAnn Vaugh was the lead sponsor of the civil Arkansas ag-gag law. Much of the rhetoric in the complaint is directed at alleged evils of production agriculture.
“When corporations trap massive numbers of animals in factory farms and process them through high-speed, dangerous slaughterhouses, all to enrich themselves and their shareholders, they cause irreparable harm to workers, rural communities, the environment, and the animals. However, the industry has been able to propagate by hiding its production methods,” the plaintiffs’ complaint says.
” Employment-based undercover investigations of industrial, agricultural facilities, which provide the public information about this secretive industry, have proven some of-the only means to demonstrate the truth about how it functions and reform its practices.”
The plaintiffs further claim specific and definite plans to investigate Prayer Creek Farm and Peco Foods, lnc.’s Arkansas facilities so they can “use that information to challenge the animal cruelty, harm to workers, and environmental catastrophes these operations are causing in the state.”
Prayer Creek Farm and Peco attorneys says the lawsuit “is contrived and cannot survive a motion to dismiss.”
“Plaintiffs claims against Peco fail . . . because they lack any statutory basis for their causes of action and in any event, cannot sue a private party for the alleged constitutional violations,” defense attorneys say. They say the claims should be dismissed because they are “unripe.”
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit “does not arise from anything that has actually happened,” Peco attorneys say.
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