OMAHA, Neb. — The Nebraska Court of Appeals has thrown out a $900,000 jury
award to two Hayes County farmers and their attorney who were sued for
defamation after criticizing a proposed hog farm.
threw out the award, saying a judge, not a jury, needed to determine whether the
lawsuit had any basis.
It was the first appellate court review of a 1994 state law meant to
eliminate lawsuits, often called SLAPP suits, aimed at preventing people from participating in government
The case, Sand Livestock Sys. v. Svoboda, was sent back to the lower
The Sept. 16 ruling was the latest development in the case that dates to
2001, when Furnas County Farms, a division of Sand Livestock Systems Inc. of
Columbus, proposed building an operation to hold 44,000 hogs in the northwest
part of Hayes County.
Hayes County farmers Char Hamilton and Duane Fortkamp and their group — Area
Citizens for Resources and Environmental Support — feared the impact a large hog
farm could have on the area and filed written comments about Furnas'
environmental record with state regulators.
Sand and Furnas and their corporate heads, Chuck Sand Jr. and Tim Cumberland,
said those comments defamed them and filed suit.
Hamilton, Fortkamp and their attorney, Amy Svoboda, countersued under a
little-used 1994 law meant to shield people who comment on controversial issues
from being slapped with lawsuits meant to intimidate them.
In 2005, a Keith County jury rejected the libel claims and ordered Sand
Livestock, Furnas, Sand and Cumberland to pay the trio $300,000 each plus legal