The American Farm Bureau Federation and North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation filed a brief in federal court asserting that a judge’s order forbidding farmers and their neighbors from discussing abusive and predatory litigation be overturned.
In a brief filed Aug. 6, the AFBF and North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation say the gag order has a chilling effect on AFBF’s and NCFB’s First Amendment rights.
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According to the brief, “Neither AFBF nor NCFB will be able to effectively educate its members on these issues, or effectively advocate for legislative solutions to lawsuit abuse aimed at responsible livestock farms, if it cannot hear and disseminate the words of its own members who have personally experienced these suits.” For these reasons, the gag order “is stifling [AFBF’s and NCFB’s] associational and expressive activities in clear and troubling ways” and unless overturned “it will continue to do so for years to come.”
Even though their farms have been branded a "nuisance" by trial lawyers seeking verdicts from juries, the farmers and their neighbors are barred from publicly discussing the conditions and practices on the farms and the effects of the lawsuits on their rural communities. Trial lawyers actively solicited hundreds of plaintiffs to assert nuisance allegations in dozens of lawsuits against Murphy-Brown LLC. While the suits name only Murphy-Brown as a defendant, most of the farms are independently owned family farms, which stand to lose their contracts and potentially their livelihoods as a result of the litigation.
“The best-informed people to speak about the farms and communities affected by these lawsuits are the member-farmers who are themselves in the cross-hairs, along with their spouses, children, extended family, friends, and neighbors,” the brief said. “These people know better than anyone the stakes at issue in nuisance lawsuits, the damage they inflict on rural communities, the toll they take on farm families, and the most effective (and ineffective) strategies for dealing with them in and out of the courtroom.”