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Egg Lawsuit Costs Missouri

Will Curran/Flickr

Airline flights and legal fees in California; rental cars and hotel rooms in Indiana; $19 at Yogurtland in Los Angeles, and expert witness fees of $500 an hour plus expenses.

That’s just part of the $83,711.59 that Missouri taxpayers will pony up for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s brief — and failed — legal foray into “the egg wars.”

The expenditure records, obtained by the Hale Center for Journalism under Missouri’s open records law, don’t represent more than a blip in the state’s $9 billion budget, but the cost amounts to $73,711.59 more than Koster promised to spend on the case.

The money bankrolled a lawsuit Koster filed against the state of California earlier this year in what he said was an effort to protect the interests of Missouri egg farmers and shield the state’s consumers from higher egg prices.

Other big egg-producing states — Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Kentucky — were also named as plaintiffs.

The California state law Koster was fighting — which was pushed through, in part, by animal welfare groups — will require that egg-laying hens get more room in their cages starting next year. And it applies not just to egg-layers in California, but to hens in all other states whose eggs are California-bound.

That’s a lot of eggs — 180 million dozen a year.

Koster’s reasoning for bringing the suit was that the rule would cost not just California farmers but all egg farmers millions of dollars to retrofit their cages and result in higher egg prices for consumers.

“This is not an agriculture case, and it’s not just about egg production,” Koster told The Kansas City Star last year. “It’s about the tendency by California to press the boundaries of intrusion into an area protected by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

A federal judge in California didn’t buy those arguments and questioned Koster’s real motives.

The judge ruled Oct. 1 that Koster and other Midwestern states that joined him in the suit “have not brought this action on behalf of their interest in the physical or economic well-being of their residents in general, but rather on behalf of a discrete group of egg farmers whose businesses will allegedly be impacted by (the California law).”

Before Koster filed the suit in February, he denied claims by animal rights groups that he would spend millions in taxpayer dollars on the case. He told the Star the total cost of the lawsuit would be no more than $10,000 and “probably a lot less.”

However, Koster’s spokesperson, Nanci Gonder, said Thursday that the

$10,000 figure was not an estimate of total costs, but an estimate for the anticipated costs for obtaining a temporary restraining order in the case.

“The actual costs incurred were to develop evidence for a full hearing on a preliminary injunction, which involved expert testimony,” she said.

Animal rights groups cheered the judge’s decision to toss the lawsuit and maintain that Koster’s actions were specious.

Credit State of Missouri
Chris Koster

“He (Koster) shouldn’t have pushed this misguided case in the first place,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, whose organization intervened as an unfriendly party in the lawsuit.

Pacelle said many egg producers have already “aligned themselves with consumers” and have accepted new, more humane regulations.

Gonder said Koster’s view differs from those of animal welfare groups “regarding the significance of the litigation and the dangers of the unlimited reach of the California legislature in national agricultural affairs.”

According to records from Koster’s office, the $83,711.59 cost included $5,931.70 in legal bills from a Fresno, Calif.–based law firm, Coleman and Horowitt, which gave taxpayers a hefty break on its fees.

The big money was spent on expert witnesses, even though they never ended up testifying in court: $16,415 for an animal scientist and a total of $52,000 for economists.

Other expenses included travel costs for those experts and for employees of the attorney general’s office, who made several trips, during which they stuck to the chicken theme of the case: $7.07 for a leg, a thigh and side dishes at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Hawthorne, California, and $9.70 for chicken nuggets and other goodies at a Chick-Fil-A in the Atlanta airport.