Thursday, May 14, 2009

Attorney General for Oklahoma v. Tyson Foods, Inc

May 13: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, Case No. 08-5154. The case, involving dozens of attorneys, is an interlocutory appeal of a denial of a motion for a preliminary injunction issued by an Oklahoma district court in September 2008. The motion arose out of a 2005 complaint filed by Plaintiffs-Appellants (collectively referred to as Oklahoma) against Defendants-Appellees (collectively referred to as Tyson Foods), which alleged various State and Federal environmental claims.

Pursuant to that complaint, on November 14, 2007, Oklahoma filed its motion for a preliminary injunction under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B), seeking to enjoin Tyson Foods from “(1) applying poultry waste to any land within the [Illinois River Watershed (IRW)] and (2) allowing the application of poultry waste generated at its respective poultry feeding operations and/or the respective poultry feeding operations under contract with it to any land within the IRW.” The district court denied the preliminary injunction on September 29, 2008, and the Appeals Court affirmed the denial.

The majority Appeals Court, in this partially split decision (dissent in part, concur in part), said in conclusion, "In its opinion and order denying a preliminary injunction, the district court stated that 'the State has not yet met its burden of proving that bacteria in the waters of the IRW are caused by the application of poultry litter rather than by other sources . . . . As a result, the State has failed to meet the heightened standard for a preliminary injunction . . . .'

"The district court set out the standard for granting a preliminary injunction, determined that the requested injunction required a heightened showing of the four factors, and then indicated that it did not find Oklahoma’s two expert witnesses on the source of bacterial pollutants in the IRW to be sufficiently credible. . . Therefore, the court held, Oklahoma could not establish causation, and thus by implication Oklahoma could not establish a likelihood of success on the merits of its RCRA claim.

"We certainly agree that the district court’s order could have been more explicit, but the grounds for the district court’s decision are sufficiently apparent to allow us to conduct appellate review, namely, it allows us to determine (1) the legal standards employed, (2) whether the findings have sufficient evidentiary support, (3) whether the legal conclusions follow from those findings, and (4) whether the legal conclusions support the grant or denial of relief. Thus, even if this court did find that the district court failed to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), the error would be harmless and a remand for clarification would not be necessary because we can ascertain from the record the basis for the denial. . . The district court, based on the evidence presented, simply could not establish a sufficient link between land-applied poultry litter and bacteria in the IRW, and therefore preliminary injunctive relief was not appropriate."

Access the complete opinion (click here).