Pulaski County Judge Jay Moody has thrown out a class-action lawsuit brought by Arkansas cotton producers. The farmers, from northeast Arkansas' Mississippi and Craighead counties, challenged the state's $7.5 million boll weevil eradication program after being forced into it last year. The program was imposed on the growers after they'd rejected it five times through referendum.

With Moody's ruling, the producers will continue paying assessments ($8 per acre last year and $14 per acre this season) for the cost of eradication. However, the $2.4 million thus far collected from the class has been held in escrow until the case is resolved. The class is expected to ask that this year's assessments be held as well.

“We're obviously unhappy with the ruling,” says Allan Gates, class attorney. “But the truth is, no matter how the judge ruled, an appeal was inevitable. This is headed for the Arkansas Supreme Court.”

Moody's latest ruling, along with an earlier decision, found: the Arkansas Plant Board acted lawfully when it forced the farmers into the program; the assessments were not a tax and no illegal taxing authority was given to the Plant Board; farmers were properly notified regarding the rule-making process; the Plant Board had proper guidelines for rule-making and assessment regulations; and farmers' equal protection rights weren't infringed on.

Gates says the appeal process should take from 12 to 18 months to reach resolution.


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com