I guess this lawyer, Ed Hallman, of the Atlanta law firm Decker, Hallman, Barber & Briggs, has done more for the anti-BS effort than any other single individual I know. And let me just quickly follow that up by saying that I know a lot of dedicated individuals in this game. People who have committed immense amounts of time, energy, and money to the goal of ending land-application of BS, and for no other reason than to see that the right thing is done, particularly with respect to the rural people who are forced to eat BS spread all over the Atlantic Coast by Synagro, Nuti-Blend, and many smaller players. A few of these sludge-warriors do this work as a part of their job and get some remuneration, but many of them are slogging away week after week without a dime of compensation for their efforts. Every one of them is a part of the effort that will — eventually — eliminate all land application of sewage sludge in this country.
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I see the AP is reporting that the NCCAP has joined the fray over the Johns Hopkins study sludging the yards of inner city – mostly black – Baltimore families. Gerald Stanbury, head of the Md. NAACP, has put the Md attorney general on notice that the NAACP wants the AG to open criminal and civil cases against the Hopkins people. Here’s a link to one version of the AP story in Delaware Online.
Barbara Boxer, who is ramping up some Senate hearings on BS – not the first, by the way, so don’t get your hopes up – has promised to look at the Baltimore situation.
Yesterday I blogged the earlier AP article about a Hopkins research dude named Mark Farfel, who was the lead lead [sic] investigator in the Baltimore study, and who has a history of designing experiments in which children are exposed to lead. Today Helane sent me a cut-and-paste, but no link, to the most recent AP story on the NAACP. This new AP article also refers to Farfel and his having been chastised by the highest court in Md for his role in prior lead studies.
But, interestingly, when I went looking for the AP article about the NAACP I had trouble finding a complete version. Parts of the article appears a gad-zillion times, but most of them have edited out any references to Farfel or the previous Hopkins lead study problems. Not even the story posted at AP.org carries the entire story now, even though the meta-data attached to the article still show reference to Farfel, so you can tell the whole complete story was originally posted there and later edited.
Sounds like somebody’s lawyers are at work doing damage-control.
It’s about time, too.
A federal judge in Augusta, Ga. has slapped back the EPA, John Walker, and a bunch of pro-BS academics at the University of Georgia. And they weren’t even parties in the lawsuit! The lawsuit was McElmurray v. USDA. There is a separate suit in which Walker and the Bulldog BS researchers are defendants. Can’t wait for the the judge to rip into them in that one.
Back at the Gutter Grunt’s Mother Site I have a summary of the judge’s opinion, a link to the opinion, and links to national news articles from the AP and Washington Post.
Here’s the link.
Wyatt v Synagro is the negligence/nuisance suit currently before the Surry County Circuit Court. For a number of reasons this appears to me to be the most significant BS case that has been prosecuted in Va. — ever. For one thing, it’s the only case in which the victims — the sludgees — have been on the offense.
Barbara Rubin has a page on her website where you can download the court documents in .pdf format. Link. These documents are a goldmine of legal arguments for anyone contemplating taking Synagro on in other counties in Va. Thanks, Barbara, for making them available.
Here is a quick and dirty summary of the case so far.
Sandra Wyatt and 5 other plaintiffs sued Synagro and Sussex-Surry LLC for negligence, private nuisance, trespass, and “punitive damages.” Sussex-Surry owns the land that Synagro is spraying the BS on. It’s timberland next to the plaintiffs’ homes and the BS is being sprayed into the trees.
James Slaughter is the main lawyer for the BSer’s. He’s the same lawyer who sued Appomattox County in 2005. He seems to be the main sludge-suit in Va. I have seen at least one self-laudatory article sort of promoting himself as “The Va BS King” or something. I would venture a guess that he has made as much money pushing BS onto the rural counties as anyone else in the state. More on Slaughter and his firm in a later post.
The plaintiffs are represented by H. Bishop Dansby and Chris Nidel, who, at the moment, are kicking Slaughter’s butt. Read on.
The lawsuit was filed in the state circuit court for Surry County, Va. but Synagro removed it to the federal court in Richmond. Slaughter did this probably to get the case out of Surry, which is where the jury will come from. Synagro knowis that any “Surry jury” is going to have a few members who have smelled this BS. (It will be an interesting question: must the judge exclude from the jury people who think Synagro’s BS stinks? Generally, a person with first hand information about a case is disqualified if the information would influence them in any way.)
The federal judge, Henry Hudson, was having none of Slaughter’s federal case theory. The Wyatts ask Judge Hudson to move the case back to state court and the judge was more than willing to comply. But he went farther, his opinion was very supportive of the Wyatt’s case. So Slaughter shot himself in the foot trying to remove the case to federal court. Not only did it not work, but already he has one judge saying there is a case here. Judge Hudson’s opinion was then used against Synagro in the state case.
Back at the ranch, in the state court, Synagro tried to get the judge to toss the case out. Judge ?? (I can’t read his signature) wrote a very clear opinion (excepting his signature) basically telling Synagro to get ready for trial. The judge did punt one of the plaintiffs, the Wyatt’s daughter, on the grounds that because she did not live on the property, she had no rights in the suit, even though she is exposed to the BS twice a day when she feeds her horses on her folks’ property. I’m not sure this was the right decision because the daughter could still have a cause under the negligence claim regardless of where she lives. But I can’t imagine not having the daughter in the case would have much impact on the plaintiffs’ case unless her injuries are more evident or easier to prove than the other plaintiffs’.
The judge also bounced the Wyatt’s trespass count. This is probably of no significance either since the Wyatts would have had to prove almost the same facts to prevail at trespass as they will have to prove for private nuisance. A jury would lump them together anyway when awarding damages.
Finally, the judge threw out the count for punitive damages on the basis that punitive damages is not properly pled as a count. Punitive damages belongs in the “prayer for relief” which is where you tote up the $$ you want to recover from the defendants. The plaintiffs did have punitive damages in their prayer, so removing it as a count has absolutely no effect on the case. The judge was just trying to tidy up the pleadings a bit. He knows that whomever wins the case, there will be an appeal.
In short, the Wyatts & Co. are off to a very good start. After discovery is complete, Synagro will try again to get the case bounced out on summary judgment. They will argue that there’s not enough evidence for the Wyatts to prove their case to a jury. The fight will be over there is enough evidence to link the plaintiffs’ injuries to the BS hanging in the trees next to their house. My guess is that Synagro’s chances of succeeding in summary judgment are even less than their chances were of removing the case into federal court.
Synagro may not let the case go long enough to get to summary judgment. I look for Synagro to settle this pretty quickly. Slaughter has already got 2 strong judicial opinions upholding the right to sue BSers for nuisance in state court. The last thing Synagro wants is for a jury to hear this case. Historically, when BSers are defendants, they are quick to buy out plaintiffs rather than risk a jury decision. But a larger problem for Synagro is that the Wyatts’ lawyers have done such a great job presenting the legal arguments in their motions and briefs that other potential plaintiffs across the state will have a lot of the hard work already done for them.
A lot more on this case to come. I’m still reading all the documents filed so far.
Maybe; maybe not.
As far as I know, there is now only one BS case active in Va. That’s the Wyatt suit against Synagro for negligence and nuisance over in Surry County. You can get a .pdf of the complaint from the Loudounnats site — here.
This could be a very significant case, and it will likely get rolling in the next few weeks. I believe Barbara is organizing all the filings for publishing on the Loudounnats.org. I’ll let you know when they are available, and I’ll try and follow that case on this blog. (BTW the Loudounnats site has a helpful (slightly out of date) summary of BS litigation across the country. Link.)
Negligence/nuisance have never, so far as I know, been raised as causes of action against the BS-ers in Va. So this case could have a very significant impact.
Hopefully some county in Va. will acquire the temerity to stand up to the state and the BS-ers a assert their right to ban land application of sludge under the Federal Clean Water Act, 33 USC section 1345(e). As noted in Spew #12 over at the Mother Site, Steve Martin and I tried to get Amherst County to step up to the plate and protect their citizens from BS, but we were met with stone, cold silence, aka cowardice, from the Board of Supervisors. The legal costs would amount to about $2 per resident, and a favorable outcome would virtually solve the BS problem for all rural counties.
But unless citizens are willing to front up and force their elected officials to take some action, the chance of them doing so on their own is nil. In the mean time, let’s hope the Wyatt’s action opens some doors into the courtrooms for the poor people who have to live next to a BS-farm.