BOISE • The Idaho Supreme Court sided Tuesday with the owners of a Twin Falls County ranch, upholding a jury’s conclusion that a bad batch of milk replacer led to the deaths of more than 100 calves in 2005.
A 5th District Court trial produced “substantial and competent evidence” that the milk replacer made by Minnesota-based Land O’Lakes was at fault, the Supreme Court wrote. But the court also denied a request by J&JRanch to add to attorney fees it won during the trial.
In December 2005, J&J owners Jesus Hurtado and John Reitsma alleged about 130 calves died in a four-month period that year after being fed a milk replacer produced by Land O’Lakes. Hurtado and Reitsma said bull calves that were fed a different milk replacer didn’t die, only heifer calves given the Land O’Lakes replacement.
A jury ruled in favor of J&J and awarded $150,000 in damages, but Land O’Lakes successfully appealed, arguing the district judge abused his discretion in admitting certain business records. A second jury trial produced the same verdict but damages of only $50,000 that were then reduced by another 40 percent. Of a J&J request for $80,744 in attorney fees, the court approved only $13,520.
Land O’Lakes again appealed, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the second verdict or order a new trial. The company argued the district court improperly admitted expert testimony and that J&J failed to prove the company’s liability and damages.
The court heard arguments in the case on Feb. 8 this year in Boise. In Tuesday’s decision, justices wrote that the trial revealed evidence “from which a reasonable jury could find that there are no other reasonably likely causes of J & J’s damages” — testimony that ruled out other factors on the ranch, for example.
But the justices also concluded that the district court properly pared down the request for attorney fees, citing factors including that attorney fees had been denied in the first trial and that the billing ledger was in doubt.
Harry DeHaan of Twin Falls represented J&JRanch, while David Maguire of Pocatello represented Land O’Lakes. Calls to their law offices were not returned Tuesday.