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Judge mulls motion to dismiss in CAFO case

Judge mulls motion to dismiss in CAFO case

June 13th, 2018 by Allen Fennewald in Local News

BOONVILLE, Mo. — Cooper County Judge Robert Koffman is reviewing a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by rural advocate group Opponents for Cooper County CAFOs LLC after a hearing June 11.

Defendants in the lawsuit are Cooper County political subdivision and its commissioners, Don Baragary, Charlie Melkersman and David Booker.

The motion to dismiss calls to question the first two counts of the lawsuit, which involve the Sunshine Law, Missouri's public records regulations.

The first count alleges Cooper County violated the Sunshine Law by failing to accurately post notice of a Feb. 9 meeting between Cooper County Commissioners and agricultural business representatives to tour the proposed site of the Tipton East concentrated animal feeding operation, located near Clarksburg. The commission's online calendar listed the members as attending training in Columbia on Feb. 9 and made no mention of a meeting with business representatives or a site tour.

The Tipton East operation would be managed by major hog-producing company Pipestone System, based out of Minnesota. The Tipton East CAFO permit application remains under review by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. According to the application, the operation would consist of a gestation building housing 4,704 sows, a farrowing building housing 1,080 sows, and a gilt-development unit for 1,620 females weighing more than 55 pounds, and 324 nursery pigs.

OCCC attorney Steve Jeffery said since two or more of the commissioners attended a tour related to ongoing public business, it constituted a public meeting that should have been publicly listed on the county's online calendar, where official business notices previously were published.

During the time of the tour, the commission was considering implementation of a public health ordinance that could have impacted CAFO installation in the county, which OCCC members supported. After the tour, the commission and public health committee elected not to impose a health ordinance.

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the county's attorney, Travis Elliot, argued count one should be disqualified because it does not state the county failed to offer notice at the courthouse or on a public bulletin board — only that the county failed to post the meeting on its online calendar.

It was not determined at the hearing where accurate notice of the Feb. 9 meeting had been posted at the courthouse or a public bulletin board. Jeffery said he hopes to find out if the meeting was properly posted in any public format during the discovery portion of the trial if the suit is not dismissed.

Count two of the lawsuit alleges the county intentionally violated the Sunshine Law by failing to provide access to requested public records after refusing to begin the record retrieval process without first receiving a deposit check for the cost of compiling the records.

Elliot argued since the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit before paying the deposit and subsequently receiving records, they have no cause to claim that the county would not have legally provided all of the requested public records.

The lawsuit petition requests the plaintiffs receive the requested records within five business days, pay a statutory penalty of $5,000 and pay the plaintiffs' legal fees.