A judge’s order that forbids farmers and their neighbors from discussing abusive and predatory litigation must be overturned, lawyers for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation (NCFBF) wrote in a brief filed in federal court Aug. 6.
Even though law-abiding farms have been branded a "nuisance" by trial lawyers seeking multimillion-dollar verdicts from urban juries, the farmers and their neighbors are barred from publicly discussing the conditions and practices on the farms and the devastating 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.”
The brief denounced the chilling effect the gag order has on AFBF’s and NCFBF’s First Amendment rights. According to the brief, “Neither AFBF nor NCFBF 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 brief said 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.”