Robert Thackston featured in Hog Farmer Documentary

Amazon Prime Video

Lathrop GPM partner, Robert Thackston, was featured in the 2022 documentary Hog Farmer[1], which follows Joey Carter, a North Carolina hog farmer who was deeply involved in one of the federal odor nuisance lawsuits involving a large food processing company in 2018. In the film, Thackston, having served as the trial lawyer for the food processing company, provides unique insight into the trial strategy of Carter’s case.

In a scene early in the film, Thackston is seen having a conversation with the Carter family on their farm and sets the stage by saying,

“…Well guys, you know it's not going to be easy because plaintiffs get to go first, and plaintiff’s lawyers are going to be saying some stuff that you strongly disagree with, and I'll do my best to bring that out and try to make the jury understand that they're trying to create a fantasy world up there – [a] long ways from down here. And we're going to try real hard to make them feel like we do here.” [Tell our story.] “Well, make them understand what it's like to be in the wide-open space and the sunshine in the breeze. And it's not an unpleasant place to live and that's why more and more people keep coming down here to live. Well, it's an honor to represent you both. I'll try not to let you down.” (26:32)

Other Thackston observations from the film include: 

  • “The lawyers who tried these cases for the plaintiffs are some of the most sophisticated, experienced, effective trial lawyers in the country, bar none. One of the tools that they used was something called the reptile tactic. So, these are tried and true litigation tactics…[that] depend on making the jury afraid for them and their family, for what the defendants are going to do.” (35:32)
  • “You want to side with the little guy and be mad at the big guy. But when you look at the actual evidence in the case, it was a fallacy. There was no big guy who came to town. These were families who had been in eastern North Carolina, sometimes for generations.” (38:31)
  • “The plaintiff lawyers wanted the jury to be mad about things that weren't claims in the case. In opening, I said to the jury, wouldn't it make sense, if people had a story to tell - if they came and they want to ask you to give them millions of dollars because of this wrong that they had suffered - that they would start the case by explaining what the wrong was? Where they lived, where the farm was, what happened between the two that interfered with their lives substantially. And then later, you might have an expert come in and say, 'Oh yeah and this is what this is, how the smell travels, and why it does that.' But they didn't do that.” (40:14)
  • “When you looked at Dr. Wing's [plaintiff’s expert, Epidemiologist from the University of North Carolina] studies, they were very, very flawed. But it wasn't the studies that were cited so much. It was more like newspaper articles about the study. …Nobody really looked at the studies to say, 'Well, here are the health effects that we found.' They would look at a newspaper article saying that a study said that the people around these farms have adverse health effects. The study didn't really find that.” (44:55)
  • “It was one of the things that was particularly unfair and difficult to deal with, when the plaintiffs specifically say, ‘We have no medical claim.’ There are no doctors' opinions. Not a single physician took the stand to testify about any plaintiff's condition. Not a single medical bill, nothing. But they could somehow still vaguely kind of argue that living around hog farms is bad for your health.” (47:12)
  • My closing had [the] top ten lies that plaintiff’s expert, Environmental Engineer got caught telling. And I basically just said to the jury that the credibility of their case is tied to the credibility of this expert. If you don't believe this expert, you shouldn't believe their case.” (1:15:01)

Before Thackston and his trial team were involved, our client suffered more than a half-billion dollars in compensatory and punitive damages in three prior nuisance trials. The client then turned to our trial team to lead the fourth trial in Raleigh – in the first case Thackston and his team tried, nominal verdicts were awarded to the nine plaintiffs and punitive damages were dismissed as a matter of law. After another jury verdict with low numbers, all remaining cases resolved. We were honored to be involved in protecting the economy of eastern North Carolina.

You can read more about the firm’s odor nuisance practice and experience in this area here.

[1] Arthurs, J. (Director). (2022). Hog Farmer. Well Raised Productions. (Available for streaming on Prime Video)