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Neb. court throws out jury award in hog-farm case

By The Associated Press
09.18.08

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.

The decision 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 proceedings.

The case, Sand Livestock Sys. v. Svoboda, was sent back to the lower court.

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 fees.


Related

Maine high court: Anti-SLAPP law precludes defamation suit (news)
Case stemmed from letter that then-legislator sent to newspaper in 2006 in response to critic's letter taking him to task for his stance on legislation. 03.25.08

Calif. appeals court sides with writer in fight with newspaper (news)
Ruling in anti-SLAPP case clears way for lower court to dismiss libel claim brought by Santa Barbara News-Press against Susan Paterno. 06.18.08

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