BISMARCK, N.D. (AP)
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking to abolish North Dakota's anti-corporate farming law are asking a judge to reject the state's request for a more detailed complaint, saying the attorney general has clearly demonstrated that he understands why the law is being challenged.
The North Dakota Farm Bureau, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a Wisconsin dairy company seeking to expand into North Dakota sued in early June, asking a federal judge to declare unconstitutional the nearly century-old law that aims to protect the state's family farming heritage.
The issue is divisive in North Dakota. The 2015 Legislature decided to allow non-family corporations to own hog and dairy operations to boost those dying industries in the state, but voters in the primary election this past June overwhelmingly rejected those exemptions.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in late July asked the judge to order the plaintiffs to amend their complaint because of "numerous sweeping references" to the law's supposed problems, which he said relegates the state to "speculation or outright guesswork" in its formal response.
In court documents filed last week, plaintiffs' attorney Sarah Andrews Herman disputed the state's assertion, saying the arguments Stenehjem makes in his request show that he has enough information to file a response.
"There is no mystery regarding the identity of the law being challenged," Andrews Herman wrote, adding later, "it defies comprehension how in defendant's next breath he can attempt to credibly state that he is unable to determine the nature of the claims."
Stenehjem said in a statement that in a case like this, such a motion isn't an unusual request. It would enable the state to appropriately and more directly respond to the plaintiffs' allegations, he said.
"As they pursue litigation against the Corporate Farming Chapter, they eventually will need to disclose their specific legal concerns with it and to properly narrow their issues; it might as well be now," Stenehjem said.
The lawsuit asserts that the state's anti-corporate farming law hurts the agriculture industry by restricting business tools available to farmers, lowering the value of their operations, discriminating against residents of other states and interfering with interstate commerce.
Stenehjem has maintained in court documents that the law cited by Farm Bureau takes up nearly 20 pages, and that the lawsuit doesn't clearly argue what parts of it violate the U.S. Constitution.