BALTIMORE – A judge ruled in favor of Perdue Farms Inc. and one of the company’s contract chicken growers in a lawsuit brought by the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Univ. of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic. In his ruling, Judge William Nickerson of the US District Court in Baltimore said the plaintiffs did not prove their case against Perdue and Alan and Kristin Hudson of Berlin, Md.-based Hudson Farm.

In the lawsuit, the Waterkeeper Alliance alleged that chicken manure from Hudson Farm was polluting local waters that ultimately flow to the Chesapeake Bay. The group argued that Perdue Farms also should be liable for the pollution. Hudson Farm is an independent contractor for Perdue Farms. Perdue argued that the Waterkeeper Alliance failed to prove any wrongdoing or that the company should be responsible for the actions of its contractors.

“We are thrilled with today’s ruling, which clearly is a resounding victory for Perdue and farm families everywhere,” said Julie DeYoung, Perdue’s spokeswoman. “We congratulate the Hudsons on their long-overdue exoneration. We are also pleased that the judge upheld existing law that safeguards the contractor relationship and confirms the independence of thousands of family farms who choose to raise poultry and livestock. This is a good day for Maryland and for agriculture.”

DeYoung added that “evidence presented during the trial showed that the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Assateague Coastal Trust were determined to file a lawsuit against a poultry farm affiliated with a major chicken producer and went looking for a victim in flights over the Eastern Shore.”

“As Judge Nickerson pointed out in his Summary Judgment letter, they went looking for someone to sue, and when they found a large pile on the Hudson Farm that they thought was chicken manure, they thought they had their ‘bad apple’,” she said. “The pile turned out to be legal biosolids from nearby Ocean City. But the Waterkeepers persisted with their lawsuit anyway, changing their arguments throughout the case.

“Perdue and the Hudsons were convenient targets in the Waterkeeper Alliance’s national campaign against modern agriculture,” DeYoung added. “The Assateague Coastal Trust and Univ. of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic were enthusiastic partners in this reckless witch-hunt against Maryland farmers.”

In a statement, the National Chicken Council called the ruling “a win for Delmarva's family farmers and against radical environmental activists who disregard the facts, sue first and ask questions later.”

“Gov. O'Malley said it best — that this unfair attack on a family farm represented an ‘ongoing injustice.’ The National Chicken Council and many other farm, agriculture, meat and poultry groups both inside and outside of Delmarva have stood solidly together in support of the Hudson's during this case — a case that was based on frivolous assumptions rather than facts from the beginning.

“We feel like this was a lawsuit against all of us, and we are pleased that Judge Nickerson ruled that the Waterkeeper Alliance had not met the standard of preponderance of evidence in its argument,” NCC said.