A Cole County judge ended a temporary restraining order preventing enforcement of a new law banning counties from passing health regulations targeting large livestock facilities called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Circuit Judge Daniel Green dissolved the order issued by Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce on Aug. 19 that also prohibited several agricultural industry groups from suing counties over their regulations.

Green dissolved the order on Sep. 5 and cancelled a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for Monday. A status hearing is scheduled for Dec. 9.

Joyce’s order was the first move in a lawsuit seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional. It was brought by the Cedar County Commission, Cooper County Health Board and three people opposed to CAFOs near their properties in mid-Missouri. Failing that, the plaintiffs want an exception for existing county-level regulations.

The lawsuit asks for a specific exemption for the Cooper County regulations, arguing the rules aren’t subject to the new state law because it regulates air quality and geologic factors the state does not.

Green replaced Joyce in the case after the defendants asked for a change of judge. In his ruling, Green wrote that the plaintiffs haven’t shown that the new state law will cause them “immediate and irreparable harm.”

In her order, Joyce cited letters from Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst and Robert Brundage, an attorney representing the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and the Missouri Pork Producers Association, sent to the Moniteau County Health Board when it considered passing CAFO regulations over the summer.

The two farm associations are defendants in the Cole County lawsuit.

Hurst and Brundage warned the board it could be sued if it passed a regulation, but never explicitly threatened a lawsuit.

Joyce ruled the letters were enough to show that the agricultural groups would sue counties with existing regulations unless a temporary restraining order stopped them. Green disagreed, writing that the plaintiffs were speculating and hadn’t proven the groups would sue them.

The Cooper County Health Board argued that Tipton East, a hog CAFO near Clarksburg recently granted a permit by the Department of Natural Resources, is an immediate threat. Construction on that CAFO hasn’t started yet, so there’s no evidence it will be operating in the near future, Green ruled.

While a group of 100 landowners are suing the Cooper County Health Board over its regulations, the Cedar County Commission didn’t show that any new CAFOs are planned for the county or that the new law would immediately harm the commission.

There are six pending applications for a state CAFO permit, according to records obtained through a Sunshine request. The applicants are for new operations in Johnson, Montgomery, Saline, McDonald, New Madrid and Barry counties.

Stephen Jeffery, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said he sought a temporary restraining order when the lawsuit was filed in August because his clients feared an onslaught of lawsuits seeking to wipe out county-level CAFO regulations.

Jeffery was unaware of any such lawsuits since the law took effect Aug. 28, so there wasn’t a real need for the restraining order or an injunction.

Green made his order “without prejudice,” meaning he could issue a restraining order or injunction later on if it was warranted, Jeffery said. For now, the lawsuit will continue like any other lawsuit, he said.

Brent Haden, the attorney representing the landowners suing the Cooper County Health Board, said the Cole County ruling won’t affect the Cooper County lawsuit. His clients weren’t enjoined by the restraining order, and Haden was going to amend his petition to argue the new state law wipes out the health board regulation regardless of what happened in Cole County, he said.

The Cooper County lawsuit is halted as Circuit Judge Robert Koffman decides whether to approve the health board’s request for a change of judge. In a Monday hearing, Haden argued they can only apply for a change of judge up to 60 days after they were initially served with the lawsuit, which was in October 2018.

The board argued the clock should reset since the landowners are now suing over a different regulation. Jeffery said parties to a lawsuit are entitled to request a new judge and don’t need a specific reason why.

The health board passed it’s first CAFO regulation in August 2018 and the landowners sued in September, arguing the regulation was beyond the board’s authority and that it violated the Sunshine Law. The board replaced that regulation in August, and Haden filed to amend the lawsuit to work against that new regulation.

Koffman took the arguments under advisement. He could keep the case, give it to another judge, or keep the Sunshine arguments and give the rest of the case to another judge, Haden said.

Gov. Mike Parson’s spokeswoman Kelli Jones could not say by press time if the state currently views county CAFO regulations as nullified or how it plans to enforce the new law.