Motions denied in chicken litter suit brought by law school

A federal judge on Thursday denied motions to bring an early end to the case accusing an Eastern Shore farm and the Perdue poultry company of polluting a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, according to court documents.

"After carefully reviewing all the argument, testimony, and evidence submitted by the parties, the Court cannot conclude, at this stage in the litigation, that any party is entitled to judgment," U.S. District Court Judge William M. Nickerson wrote, denying motions for summary judgment that were filed in November by all three parties to the case.

In 2010, the Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based environmental group with 18 chapters in Maryland, filed a lawsuit against Perdue and Alan and Kristin Hudson, who raise thousands of chickens every year for Perdue on their 293-acre Worcester County farm. A University of Maryland law school clinic is representing the plaintiffs.

The clinic argued there was evidence the farm was the source of high bacteria counts found in a drainage ditch. The clinic also argued that Perdue shared culpability because it effectively controlled the farm's chicken-rearing, made frequent inspections and gave the farmers detailed directions.

Perdue and the Hudsons, in turn, argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because, despite the bacteria found in the ditch, "no one saw" chicken manure or any runoff from the houses going into it. The only manure-tainted runoff seen by a state inspector was from a herd of cows grazing in another part of the farm, the defendants' lawyers say. Perdue's lawyer also argued the clinic can't prove the Salisbury-based poultry company controlled pollution-related operations on the farm.

The case is scheduled for trial April 16 though Nickerson said Thursday he was willing to delay the start of the bench trial if the parties want to try and negotiate a settlement.

Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

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