Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Oklahoma v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

Sep 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, Case No. 09-5134. The Cherokee Nation (the Nation) appeals the district court's denial of its motion to intervene in a dispute between the State of Oklahoma (the State) and Defendants-Appellees (collectively, Tyson). The State had sued Tyson because of Tyson's disposal of poultry waste in the Illinois River Watershed (IRW). The IRW, in which both the State and the Nation claim interests, covers approximately one million acres straddling the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. Within it are hundreds of large-scale poultry farms. Tyson operates some of these farms and contracts with other farmers to raise poultry until maturity, using methods established by Tyson; Tyson collects the poultry at maturity for processing and marketing. These poultry-growing operations generate hundreds of thousands of tons of poultry waste each year.
    Raising a number of legal theories, the State sought monetary relief for past and future damages and an injunction against alleged pollution. More than three years into the litigation, Tyson moved to dismiss the monetary claims on the ground that the Nation was a required party that had not been joined. The State argued that the Nation was not a required party but also negotiated an agreement in which the Nation purportedly assigned the State its interests in the litigation. The district court ruled that the agreement was invalid and granted Tyson's motion, restricting the previously scheduled trial to the State's claims for injunctive and other equitable relief.
    Nineteen days before trial the Nation moved to intervene so that it could proceed on three claims against Tyson for injunctive and monetary relief. The district court denied the motion as untimely. Although the Nation argued that it had moved promptly after learning that the State could not adequately represent the Nation's interests in the litigation, the district court ruled that the Nation had delayed too long, that Tyson would be severely prejudiced by the lengthy trial delay that would be necessary if the Nation were permitted to intervene, and that the Nation would not be prejudiced by a denial of intervention.
    In a split decision, the majority affirmed the district court denial and said it "did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to intervene. In particular, the district court could properly find that the Nation had unduly delayed seeking to intervene because from the outset of the litigation it had no reason to believe that the State would represent its interests in monetary relief."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).

No comments: