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Hearsay Sinks Meat Packer's Counterclaim Against Distributor

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 06, 2016 1:59 PM

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower trial court's ruling against Greater Omaha Packing Co., a meat packing company whose unsanitary conditions led to numerous cases of e. coli littering headlines from 2007 to 2010. The circuit court also affirmed the lower court's decision to affirm summary judgment against Greater Omaha on its countersuit for "tortious interference of business expectation."

Here we will focus exclusively on reviewing Greater Omaha's counterclaim.

Basic Background

Cargill, the giant meat distribution company, was awarded $9 million in damages from Greater Omaha Packing Co. in 2014. The defendant had engaged in unsanitary meat packing practices that caused the eventual illnesses of several end-consumers. Outbreaks across the nation required Cargill to recall over 845,000 of meat, mostly beef. When Cargill and its insurance company sued Greater Omaha, they sued the defendant on numerous contract theories including breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranty, as well as breach of fitness for particular purpose. The damage by e.coli cost Cargill $26 million in liabilities.

Greater Omaha Counters

District Judge Lyle Strom rejected Greater Omaha's counterclaim against Cargill because it had failed to prove a tortious interferencethat could have caused a breach of contractual relationship with Cargill.

The "interference" argument turned on whether or not Cargill's lawyer, Shawn Stevens, could be said to have intentionally interfered with his client's relationship with Greater Omaha by implicating Greater Omaha was the e.coli's source. The New York Times had published a piece in 2009 entitled "The Burger That Shattered Her Life" about a Minnesota woman who'd eaten a tainted Cargill patty. Stevens started his preliminary investigations into injury and his comments were published in the article.

The circuit agreed with the district court that Greater Omaha failed to show that Cargill intentionally interfered in its business relationship with Greater Omaha and affirmed the summary judgment motion.

Hearsay

Here, the "genuine dispute" must have been based on admissible evidence. The circuit balked at Greater Omaha's countersuit and looked kindly on Cargill's summary judgment because a newspaper article was "rank hearsay" that did not fit any hearsay exception. Steven's comments aside, the lower court properly granted summary judgment because the newspaper article could not be admitted into the body of evidence.

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