Sugar farmers again seek dismissal of lawsuit alleging harm from sugarcane burns

sugar cane (Large)
Plaintiffs allege ash from those burns causes health problems.

Florida sugarcane farmers are once again asking a judge to toss a lawsuit alleging Glades residents are being harmed by pollution from controlled sugarcane burns.

Earlier this year, that lawsuit faced a hurdle as a judge partially dismissed the suit, arguing the allegations against the farmers had not been proven.

“There is nothing in the amended complaint showing that each of the plaintiffs has been harmed by all of the defendants,” U.S. District Judge Rodney Smith said.

Plaintiffs had attempted to argue the smoke from those burns contains pollutants which spread outside of farmland into nearby residential communities. Judge Smith said the plaintiffs failed to connect the smoke to any actual harm, but did allow plaintiffs to refile their complaint in an effort to present better evidence residents.

In June, the plaintiffs did just that, filing a second amended complaint which was again met with a motion to dismiss by U.S. Sugar and other defendants named in the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the sugarcane farmers argue plaintiffs’ reliance on modeling showing the potential effects of the pollutants do not demonstrate any actual harm caused by the ash for residents in the area. Moreover, they argue, the plaintiffs’ data is faulty. Plaintiffs were forced to revise data that overstated the negative effects of those burns by 60 times.

Last month, the plaintiffs followed up with a third amended complaint, but the defendants argue that version is flawed as well. Now, they’re again trying to have the case thrown out of court.

On Nov. 25, defendants filed a motion to dismiss. Last week, both parties filed updates documents wrestling over the fate of the case going forward.

The Department of Environmental Protection monitors air quality throughout the state and farmers say they are operating within acceptable standards.

The Florida Forest Service regulates the burns in question. Permits are only issued if wind flow is not directing smoke to a community. Such a breeze could cause potential spread of smoke and ash. 

Farmers are asserting the state’s data is reliable and should be used in lieu of the plaintiffs’ projections in their modeling. Plaintiffs’ attorney have cast doubt on the effectiveness of government oversight, alleging the Forest Service is potentially “rubber-stamping” those burn permits.

Staff Reports


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