Monday, October 2, 2023

Foundation Food Group, OSHA battling in court over fatal nitrogen leak

By Nick Watson, The Times

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — For months, Foundation Food Group and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have waged legal battle over warrants to inspect the processing plant’s facilities following the nitrogen leak in January that killed six people.

U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story agreed Tuesday, June 8, with a magistrate judge’s ruling on the warrant and denied the company’s emergency motion for reconsideration.

Story’s order stated that delaying the warrant’s execution is not in the interest of the public and would harm OSHA’s ability to investigate.

“The record supports OSHA’s concern that conditions in the (Foundation Food Group) plant pose a threat to the health and safety of (Foundation Food Group’s) employees, and continued delay in OSHA’s ability to review these conditions risks further harm to these same employees,” according to Story’s order.

According to an order signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Clay Fuller, OSHA began investigating the Jan. 28 leak at the Memorial Park Drive poultry processing plant and “received written and oral complaints from workers concerning other potential violations at the plant, including an ammonia leak from a different refrigeration system than the one involved in the January incident.”

The judge approved a warrant application April 20 presented by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and OSHA inspectors visited the Gainesville plant two days later.

“(Foundation Food Group) stopped production on one of the lines at issue and filed its emergency motion to stay the following day,” according to the judge’s order.

The docket was unsealed by a June 3 order.

The poultry processor made “numerous arguments concerning the sufficiency of and the sources of evidence which may be reflected in OSHA’s application for the warrant” and was seeking a hearing to challenge the evidence used for the warrant, according to the judge’s order.

Foundation Food Group filed an emergency motion for reconsideration June 4.

“FFG is not the first company that has come to this court seeking to quash an overbroad administrative subpoena, nor is it likely to be the last,” the attorneys for the Gainesville plant wrote. “However, the magistrate’s finding would eviscerate any possible check on improper warrants and suggests suing individual government officials is an adequate sole remedy.”

The company argued that if the court does not halt the enforcement of the warrant, then Foundation Food Group will lose its ability to protect its right from unlawful search and seizure.

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