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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 02:41 pm

Court denies pig farm’s damage claims

Farmer asked for $300,000, receives $500

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A Sangamon County judge has denied nearly $300,000 in damages for a local pig farmer who says an opposition group crippled his finances.

Sangamon County circuit judge Leslie Graves ruled on Sept. 7 that Buckhart farmer Robert Young was entitled to $500 in damages from the Rochester Buckhart Action Group (RBAG), which temporarily halted the construction of Young’s pig farm through a court injunction in 2007. Young had asked the court to award him $300,000 in damages. (See “Should pig opponents have to pay?” Oct. 15, 2009.)

Graves denied all but one of Young’s damage claims, saying some of the documents supporting his claims were merely speculation or had not been verified as authentic.

“Defendant (Young) failed to call any reliable witness or produce any documents to show the monetary calculations were based on sound financial analysis,” Graves wrote regarding one of the claims. She also denied Young’s request that RBAG pay his attorney fees and did not award Young a $60,000 bond that she had earlier required RBAG to post pending the injunction.

The case began in May 2007, when RBAG took Young to court, seeking to halt construction of his proposed pig farm. The group of Young’s neighbors cited property values and air and water quality concerns in asking the court to force Young to seek a permit for a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO), a permit usually reserved for farms that dump or expect to dump waste into waterways.

The controversy hinged on whether Young’s farm was an expansion of his family’s former small-scale pig operation and whether Young’s proposal to deal with animal waste was environmentally sound. Young has filed documents with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency informing regulators of his intent to supply local farmers with manure for their fields instead of dumping the waste into waterways or storing it on-site.

RBAG’s injunction was overturned by the appellate court, and the circuit court then banned Young from seeking damages. That ban was also overturned on appeal.

Young’s attorney, Tom Immel of Springfield, says his client “feels like there’s something very bad going on here” at the circuit court level.

“What’s eerie is the unswerving adoption by the court of any argument RBAG makes,” Immel says. “The circuit judge literally cut and pasted from RBAG’s post-trial memo. There’s almost no language from the judge in the order, and it’s just remarkable that no matter what they (RBAG) say, the court adopts their position.”

Immel says his client plans to appeal the decision to the appellate court.

“I’ve been doing this for 43 years, and I’ve never had three appeals in one case,” Immel says. “If I prevail, I will have reversed the same judge three times in the same case. I don’t know of any lawyer in Springfield who has either, in a local case. Something remarkable is happening here.”

The amount of damages is likely to rise as the case continues, Immel says, because the claims include requests for attorney fees and interest on damages.

Darrel Berry, chairman of RBAG, says the group is relieved at the decision, but expects a renewed fight at the appellate level. Berry says the thing that astounds him about this case is that the original property and environmental issues have still not been addressed.

“It’s amazing, in my opinion, that we can wrangle over the injunction and the damages for so long without getting to the main issue,” Berry says. “It’s been three-and-a-half years, and the original case still hasn’t been heard by the court. It’s just amazing that the process can be drawn out for so long. We should have been done with this by now.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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