Sanctions against state upheld in poultry litter case

by Bryan Salvage
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TULSA, OKLA. – A federal judge has upheld sanctions against Oklahoma in the state's federal lawsuit against 13 Arkansas poultry companies for failing to produce sampling data to the defendants in a timely manner, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell, in an opinion and order filed last week in federal court in Tulsa, agreed with a magistrate judge's earlier ruling in May 2008 which found that "in some instances ... production of the data was improperly delayed."

The magistrate judge had imposed sanctions in the form of the poultry companies' attorney fees and costs associated with the state's delay in producing the information. Charlie Price, a spokesman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson, said that the documents in question have "long been produced," and that there "was no intention of not turning the documents over."

The court ordered the state in January 2007 to turn over certain monitoring and sampling data. In February 2008, the poultry companies filed a motion asserting the state failed to comply with that order. Oklahoma filed a response and produced much of the data, but the poultry companies still maintained that the state withheld information until after they filed a motion to compel compliance.

Mr. Edmondson sued the Arkansas poultry companies in 2005, accusing them of polluting the 1 million-acre Illinois River watershed with bird waste. Companies named in the 2005 complaint include Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production L.L.C., George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., Cal-Maine Farms Inc. and Willow Brook Foods Inc.

The pollution trial will begin in September.

Mr. Edmondson is also seeking to overturn a Tulsa federal judge's decision against stopping the poultry industry from disposing of bird waste in the watershed, which is shared by Oklahoma and Arkansas. Last year, the judge ruled that Oklahoma had not yet met its burden of proving that bacteria in the waters of the watershed are caused by poultry litter application rather than other sources like cattle manure and septic systems.

Oklahoma will argue its appeal on the injunction March 11 at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

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