The law firm of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain is representing 141 property owners in a lawsuit against a large-scale cattle-feeding operation which has negatively impacted those homeowners’ quality of life.
The plaintiffs live or own property within five miles of Valley Oaks Steak Co.’s confined animal feeding operation in Lone Jack, Missouri and are suing the company in the wake of its plans to expand its operation to an annual average of 6,999 head of cattle.
Nearly all of the plaintiffs have lived in or owned their properties before 2016 when Valley Oaks opened along an area near U.S. 50 that straddles the line between Jackson and Johnson County, Missouri. At that time, Valley Oaks’ herd of cattle was well under the legal limit of 999. But it has since applied to increase that herd seven-fold. And, according to the lawsuit, it has illegally housed 1,900 head of cattle while awaiting state approval of that permit.
The lawsuit was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court. It names as defendants Valley Oaks Steak Co., LLC, Valley Oaks Real Estate LLC, Valley Oaks Feeders LLC, Country Club Homes, LLC and Valley Oaks owner David Ward. It charges them with causing a nuisance and trespassing.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said that Valley Oaks’ proposed expansion is unreasonable. Whereas confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) are typically in sparsely populated areas of the country, Valley Oaks is growing its operation in the middle of a densely populated area of Missouri, adjacent to the Kansas City metropolitan area.
The lawsuit states that the nearly 7,000 cattle will produce 300 tons of manure every day, which will then be stored in barns and sheds onsite, until such time as the facility reaches its capacity for manure storage_ far short of manure storage requirements.
According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, there were an estimated 5,700 heads of beef cattle in Jackson County, prior to the Valley Oaks CAFO. With the Valley Oaks CAFO expansion, more cattle would exist within a mile of the Jackson County border with Johnson County, Missouri than in the whole county itself.
The manure odors have already impacted the plaintiffs. They cannot avoid the odor emanating from the CAFO even when inside with all doors and windows closed. Many of them have said that they can no longer go outside or entertain family and guests. They also fear that the CAFO will reduce their property values.
The lawsuit cites other examples of how the Valley Oaks CAFO has been a nuisance that will become worse if the expansion goes through:
– It has created an exponential increase in house, stable and horn flies beyond the norm for that area. Those insects are disease carrying parasites.
– It has attracted horticultural pests, like the circus flatid planthopper, which attacks plant-life, and whiteflies, which are known to cause major damage to plants through their transmission of diseases to the plants they feed upon.
– After expansion, it will produce an estimated 361 pounds of ammonia emissions daily. That will cause further environmental harm to human and animal health, including respiratory irritation and even chronic lung disease.
– It will generate particulate matter _ a combination of dust, fecal matter, feed materials, pollen, bacteria, fungi, skin cells and silicates_ from feed, dry manure and animal dander. This can cause chronic bronchitis, chronic respiratory symptoms, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, declines in lung function and organic dust toxic syndrome.
– It will increase the amount of truck traffic in the area.
– It will contaminate the surface water and groundwater on neighboring properties.
The Valley Oaks CAFO is only a few miles away from Powell Gardens, a 970-acre botanical garden that attracts more than 100,000 tourists a year. Powell Gardens and a small group of homeowners filed a petition for injunctive relief and damages against Valley Oaks last year.
In January, 2019, a Jackson County judge granted a preliminary injunction against Valley Oaks, which put its expansion plans on hold.
Still, according to the lawsuit filed by the 141 property owners, the Valley Oaks CAFO continues to negatively impact their lives.
The lawsuit added that David Ward has no experience in operating a CAFO facility and has admitted that he taught himself via the internet.
“A reasonable person residing in the community will regard Valley Oaks’ operation and the resulting nuisance as definitely offensive, seriously annoying and intolerable,” said Kenneth B. McClain, senior partner of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and asks for a jury trial.