Lawsuit filed over Dean Foods contract
Damages sought for lost revenue, 'continued family legacy of farming'
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Attorneys have begun exchanging legal documents in a $19 million federal breach-of-contract lawsuit a Burley, Idaho, farmer filed against the Dallas-based dairy corporation Dean Foods and two of its subsidiaries.
Carl Seymour filed his initial complaint in May of 2011 against Dean, WhiteWave Foods and Horizon Organic and amended it this September. Dean responded with a countersuit this October.
Seymour was hired by WhiteWave on a seven-year contract to manage the Sanda Rosa Ranch, in Snowville, Utah, which the company leased to supply feed for its Horizon Organic Dairy in Paul, Idaho, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Salt Lake City.
Seymour alleges he managed the farm from August of 2008, when he reached the agreement with WhiteWave, until the defendants unilaterally ended the contract near the end of 2010.
In addition to lost revenue, Seymour is seeking damages for emotional stress to his family, large investments he made in farming and trucking equipment and the loss of "financial well-being, retirement plans and the possibility of a continued family legacy of farming."
Aaron Jensen, an attorney with the Logan, Utah-based firm representing Seymour, said documents show the defendants were aware they intended to sever the contract early and move many cows away from the Paul dairy, though they promised Seymour they intended to extend the contract. Jensen contends they withheld their intentions to convince Seymour to make the move and improve the farm in the short term.
Dean's countersuit seeks compensation for lost crop value, alleging Seymour withheld from the company that the wheat crop he raised was compromised by volunteer barley. Furthermore, the countersuit alleges he mixed wheat and barley in storage, making it less desirable for feed.
According to the countersuit, the contract was for one year, on a trial basis. The defendants have also asked that Seymour's suit be dismissed because he breached his contract, was dishonest and has based his claims on an oral contract, which increases the likelihood of fraud.
Attorneys representing the defendants declined to comment.
"Here at Horizon, we treat our farmers as part of our family, with respect and integrity," Horizon said in a statement. "We vigorously dispute the factual allegations and mischaracterizations asserted in the Seymour lawsuit and are defending ourselves accordingly."
Jensen said Seymour has documents to support details of the oral contract. Regarding volunteer barley in the wheat crop, he said Seymour planted as instructed by the defendants, but advised them their method would lead to problems.
"We firmly believe the evidence will show he did everything to prevent the grain from being mixed," Jensen said. "It was a big corporation that was taking advantage of a small family farmer here who was promised a legacy to pass on. They backed out on him and left him hanging."
Seymour said he met the WhiteWave officials through a mutual friend.
"I've had a lifetime in farming. When I came to them I was not farming, and it was a spot to step back in," Seymour said.
Seymour was retained to manage the Snowville ranch after WhiteWave ended its lease and the owner sold the property.