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Chicken Farmers Cry Fowl ... and Other Legal News You May Have Missed

By Richard Dahl on April 26, 2022 3:57 PM

Two South Carolina chicken farmers filed a federal class-action lawsuit April 18, claiming they were ripped off by a standard poultry industry contracting practice that may be victimizing others like them.

Michael and Jean-Nichole Diaz, a married couple, contend that after they signed a contract with Amick Farms LLC in 2019 to provide chickens for the poultry processing company, they unwittingly became little more than unprotected and poorly paid employees.

The Diazes were both schoolteachers in 2018 when they bought 50 acres of land, a home, and four chicken houses for $1.5 million. They said that Amick promised them independence after they signed the contract the following year, but their lawsuit details how the company controlled nearly every facet of their operation.

They contend that Amick shifted all the risk of capital investment to them without giving them a say in business decisions. They said Amick required $50,000 in upgrades on the front end and then sent a field manager who tightly controlled the operation. They even had to restrict children and dogs from entering certain areas of their own property and maintain a record of all visitors.

Michael Diaz kept his teaching job but estimated that his income from the chicken operation was less than minimum wage. The Diazes finally sold the farm, losing most of the savings that they invested in it.

The Diazes point out in their complaint that the poultry industry's practice of using tightly controlled contractors is now the norm.

But the system also does seem to work for some contractors. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that most contract chicken growers had incomes above the median for U.S. family households. However, USDA pointed out that the figure is largely the result of "off-farm" income.

It's a system that seems to work well for poultry producers, who can rely on contractors who must assume much of the risk without any of the protections that traditional employees enjoy. But the Diazes, at least, say contractors really are employees and should be treated as such.

SCOTUS Justices Appear to Side With Praying Coach

The U.S. Supreme Court appears ready to rule in favor of a high school assistant football coach who was fired for praying on the field.

Justices heard oral arguments on April 25 in a religious liberty case stemming from a lawsuit by the former coach, Joseph Kennedy, against Bremerton (Washington) School District. After games, Kennedy regularly kneeled at the 50-yard line, where he prayed audibly. The school district said parents complained that the actions were coercive, but Kennedy argued that he was simply exercising his right to express his devotion to God.

Justices in the court's conservative majority voiced concern about the district's intrusion into Kennedy's religious practice. However, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh also expressed awareness that players could feel coerced because they want to get on the good side of the coach. He also said parents could worry that religious beliefs could influence decisions on their children's playing time, which could have an impact on college acceptance.

Kennedy has the support of many conservative leaders, who urged the Supreme Court to overturn the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling in favor of the school district.

While the court appears ready to rule in Kennedy's favor, justices may decide to limit their decision to the Washington case instead of issuing a broader ruling backing the religious freedom rights of all public school employees.

Tennessee Seeks Child Support Requirement for Drunk Drivers

Tennessee appears poised to become the first state to require drunk drivers to pay child support if they kill the parent of a minor.

The bill, named "Ethan, Hailey, and Bentley's Law," after children whose parents were killed by drunk drivers, passed the state Senate on April 20 after unanimous passage by the House in February. Gov. Bill Lee is expected to sign it.

If he signs it, the measure would require those convicted of such crimes to pay support until each child reaches age 18 and graduates from high school. Courts would determine reasonable amounts of child support by considering, among other things, the financial resources of the surviving parent or guardian and the standard of living the children are used to.

Texas Residents Sue for Library Book Removals

Seven residents of Llano County, Texas, filed a federal lawsuit on April 25 against several public officials over a campaign to remove books deemed offensive or inappropriate.

The plaintiffs contend that the officials — including a county judge and the director of the county library system — violated their First and 14th Amendment rights by removing books deemed offensive or inappropriate.

Last October, Texas Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, told school officials he was launching an investigation into 850 books found in school libraries that dealt with issues of race, gender identity, and sexuality. The lawsuit alleges that the county library director, Amber Milum, responded by asking her librarians to relocate any of those titles to the adult section.

The lawsuit is the latest volley in the legal battle over book removals in Texas. The American Civil Liberties Union recently sent letters to several school districts, asking them to put removed books back on the shelves.

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