MODESTO -- A judge Wednesday declined to dismiss a lawsuit against a Carpenter Road egg farm accused of leaving about 50,000 hens without feed.
Judge Roger Beauchesne, ruling in Stanislaus County Superior Court, allowed three animal rescue groups to proceed with their case against A&L Poultry.
The groups are seeking at least $25,000 to cover feed, shelter, veterinary and other costs they incurred in caring for 4,460 surviving hens after the situation came to light in February. They also are asking for punitive damages.
"It's about seeking justice for the hens and, to a lesser extent, compensating the sanctuaries that care for these animals," said Matthew Liebman, an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in the Sonoma County city of Cotati.
It sued A&L and owners Andy Keung Cheung and Lien Diep on behalf of Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary in Stockton; Animal Place, based in Grass Valley; and Farm Sanctuary, which is based in New York state and has a farm in Glenn County.
Scott Brust, the San Pedro-based attorney for A&L, could not be reached for comment.
Another attorney for the company told The Modesto Bee in February that the hens were inadvertently denied feed while A&L was in the process of shutting down and arranging for a new home for the birds.
The Stanislaus County district attorney's office still is investigating the case and could decide soon whether to file criminal charges, Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said Wednesday.
"It's a very unusual case, and we're just making sure we have all the i's dotted and the t's crossed before we make a decision," she said.
The Stanislaus Animal Services Agency reported that the hens were left without feed for about two weeks.
It arranged for animal rescue groups to take the hens that were deemed to be in good enough shape for rehabilitation and adoption. The rest died before the situation was discovered or were put to death afterward.
A&L, which has since closed, was a small part of California's egg production. Industry leaders helped local, state and federal agencies respond to the emergency.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com.