SALISBURY, Md. – A federal judge rejected a bid by Perdue Farms Inc. to collect $3 million in legal fees from an environmental activist group that sued the company and a family farm over water pollution.

In his opinion, Judge Nickerson wrote, “It is most unfortunate that so much time and so many resources were expended on this action that accomplished so little." He later added, "That, however, is not the same as concluding that the underlying claim was 'frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation,' or ever clearly became so.”

Perdue expressed disappointment with Judge Nickerson's ruling. The company was seeking to recoup $2.5 million in attorney fees.

“The effort to recover legal fees was never about Perdue,” said Julie DeYoung, spokesperson for Perdue. “It was about trying to ensure that another farm family doesn’t have to go through the unfair situation the Hudson family faced, and that the Waterkeepers and other organizations like them would think twice about pursuing legal action that uses hard-working American families as pawns in their attack on modern agriculture.”

New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance sued Perdue and Hudson Farm in Berlin, Md., on allegations 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. Judge William Nickerson of the US District Court in Baltimore ruled in favor of Perdue Farms and the Hudsons in December 2012. The Waterkeeper Alliance declined to appeal the ruling.

Alan and Kristin Hudson, owners of the family farm named in the suit with Perdue, also filed for reimbursement of their legal fees. The Hudsons were seeking to recoup $500,000. Judge Nickerson's decision not to award legal fees shows how difficult it can be for some parties to recover legal costs, according to SaveFarmFamilies.

“We are extremely disappointed that the judge chose not require that the Waterkeeper Alliance reimburse the Hudsons and Perdue the $3 million they expended on the lawsuit and hold the Waterkeepers accountable for their irresponsible lawsuit,” the group said in a separate statement. “Judge Nickerson earlier ordered the Waterkeepers, as is typical for the losing party in a lawsuit, to pay $28,000 in court costs. This is a small price for what the Hudsons have had to endure.”