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DeCoster can't build hog facilities for son, but existing operations OK

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DES MOINES - The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that Austin "Jack" DeCoster is legally barred from building livestock confinement operations for a company owned by his son.

The court overturned an earlier Wright County District Court decision that had denied the state's effort to halt construction of hog facilities for Midwest Pork L.C., a company owned by Peter DeCoster.

However, the ruling, released Wednesday, would apply only to future construction and would not affect facilities already built for Midwest Pork on 10 sites in North Iowa, according to the attorney general's office.

And the high court said while the law prohibits the elder DeCoster from building new hog facilities, it does not prevent him from helping finance his son's endeavors.

"We are pleased the Supreme Court has agreed that the construction of the Midwest Pork facilities by Jack DeCoster violated state law," Deputy Attorney General Julie Pottorff said. "Although this decision will not affect the facilities that are already built, it will enjoin Jack DeCoster from building any more confinement facilities for his son, Peter, during the time in which Jack himself is prohibited from construction."

Attorney General Tom Miller had filed suit on the state's behalf against both Jack and Peter DeCoster and Midwest Pork in 1997, alleging that Jack DeCoster was circumventing the law by financing confinement operations for his son and contracting to build them through his company, Iowa Ag-Construction Company Inc.

At the time, Jack DeCoster was restricted from constructing new livestock facilities due to pending state enforcement action for environmental violations at his existing operations in north-central Iowa. The state argued that Midwest Pork was a "sham" corporation, set up to allow Jack DeCoster to expand his operations in spite of the state's restrictions.

District Judge Kurt Wilke ruled in 1999 that the state's habitual violator law did not prevent Jack DeCoster from financing the construction of hog confinements for others, from employing his construction company to build hog confinements for others or from renting hog confinements to expand his own operation.

Peter DeCoster and Midwest Pork were dropped from the lawsuit and Wilke said they could proceed with construction "at their potential financial peril."

The state appealed only its argument that Jack DeCoster was barred from financing and contracting to build confinement facilities. The Supreme Court agreed that the law at the time prohibited Jack DeCoster from constructing new livestock facilities, regardless of who owned them.

The court has returned the case to Wright County District Court for an injunction that would prohibit Jack DeCoster and Iowa Ag-Construction from building livestock confinement operations. However, the Supreme Court specified that the order should not be broader than the state's request, which did not include any action against buildings that already have been constructed.

The state did not contest the ability of Peter DeCoster and Midwest Pork to continue their operations and the court did not consider that part of the case.

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