Supreme Court kills case involving MN farmer and his 212 dead cows


The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of a Minnesota farmer and his 212 dead cows, which might have impacted the way we interact with government employees.

The justices met on April 18 to consider whether Greg Herden of Gully could sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture for negligence in connection to a federal conservation program.

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Herden alleges that a seed specialist named Howard Moechnig concocted a mixture containing Alsike Clover to maximize the yield on his fields. Though reluctant, Herden fed the hay to his livestock. One by one, the bovine die off.

The feds pointed a finger back at Herden, alleging that he improperly stored the hay and allowed it to grow mold. The question at issue, however, was not "Who did it?" so much as "Can a citizen take the government to court?"

Congress approved the Federal Tort Claims Act for this purpose in the 1940s, but subsequent courts have established one exemption after another, effectively gutting the legislation. Today, someone like Moechnig is protected from civil litigation so long as he can prove he acted reasonably, within the boundaries of public policy.

In deciding not to hear the case, the Supreme Court has killed Herden's chances of seeking restitution. The lower courts have already sided with the feds.

Moechnig previously declined to talk about the case, but now says, "It was the U.S.D.A. that was on trial, not me."

He's right -- though without him, the case doesn't exist. When asked whether he feels vindicated by the court's decision, he says, "I don't feel anything but bad for Greg Herden."

Greg Herden also feels bad for Greg Herden. He believes the case highlights a fundamental unfairness in the judicial system.

"They won't even let me have a trial," he says. "Where are my rights?"

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to [email protected]