Minnesota feedlot legal battle is over

Hannah Yang Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn. McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Farm Forum

MANTORVILLE — After a bitter three-year legal battle, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied review of a petition over a Dodge County feedlot on June 28.

This decision allows the previous April 17 ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals to stand as is, which vacated the Dodge County District Court’s summary judgment that upheld the county’s issuing of a conditional-use permit to Masching Swine Farms LLC for constructing a 720-animal unit swine farm.

“Game over,” said Paul Reuvers, attorney for the county. “This ill-conceived litigation is finally done.”

The background

In 2014, the county board approved a conditional-use permit for the 11th feedlot in the area around Evelyn and Lowell Trom’s farmhouse that the family lived in for more than eight decades. The Troms stated that Dodge County “failed” to properly consider and address the environmental concerns relating to a 2,400 head swine feedlot that was constructed approximately six acres away from their home.

A lawsuit followed, which the Troms initially won. The Dodge County judge at the time ruled that local officials violated their own rules after approving the feedlot because the proposal failed to provide specific information to the public, including plans for how and where manure would be distributed.

“The application contained only a fraction of the information required,” the judge wrote. “The application process was faulty from the very beginning.”

Since then, the county board voted to change its own rules. The result created a two-page application for a feedlot permit that required less specifics.

The couple sued Dodge County again, alleging that officials push feedlot projects faster than other permits because the planning commission was “comprised predominantly of individuals who have a direct financial stake in the feedlot industry.”

In May, the Troms lost. The judge ruled that courts are obliged to give deference to the government bodies that make the rules when it came to regulatory decisions.

Their case drew support and attention from environmental and animal rights groups in opposition of the feedlot.

Dodge County responds

From this legal win, Reuver explained that this decision didn’t come as a surprise. The Minnesota State Supreme Court only takes less than 10 percent of civil cases. There was also the fact that the court “uniformly held there must be strict compliance with the rules,” which was addressed in the Jaeger v. Palladium Holdings, LLC case in 2016.

“The Troms failed to follow simple and straightforward court rules, which is poetic justice, as they claim the county failed to follow its own rules,” he said. “It’s not the county’s fault the Troms did not follow the rules.”

“The county properly approved a feedlot for a young, aspiring farmer,” Reuver said. “He followed all of the state and local rules, which is all anyone should be required to do. The county works hard to balance the rights of all of its citizens, and did so here.”

After three years of legal suits, the conversations over feedlots were contested. Accusations were made against several county commission members of bias for allegedly approving CUPs for feedlots faster because a couple of the members had associations with several feedlots.

Now, the legal battle is over.

“Opponents of any land use decision should refrain from personal, vitriolic attacks on the integrity of public officials, as it is hard to get good, hard-working people involved in local government when faced with this environment, which is truly unfortunate,” Reuvers added.

Trom family responds

Once she received word from the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision not to review the Troms’ petition, Sonja Trom Eayrs — who is an attorney and is the daughter of the Troms — expressed her disappointment with the outcome.

“After a lifetime of hard work and building a beautiful family farm, it’s sad to see corporate America put a large factory farm next door,” Eayrs said in a statement. “There is no respect for the land. No respect for the hard-working families that settled in this area, and certainly no respect for the environment, and for what? A little money?”

Jim Peters, the Troms’ attorney, also expressed his disagreement over the declined review of the Troms’ petition.

“Although the Minnesota Supreme Court takes very few cases like this, we were hopeful that they would take this up given the widespread interest,” Peters said in an email statement. “We hope that the MPCA will follow up in any event.”

“If Minnesotans want to see change regarding factory farms, they will need to take action in the legislature,” Eayrs said. “Factory farms are ruining Minnesota, with over 4,600 impaired waterways in our beautiful state. … Large corporate interests are forcing farm families off the land. Guess what? We’re not leaving.”