Posted 8/20/2014 12:50 pm
Updated 4 weeks ago
A group of farmers on Monday sued Turner Grain Merchandising Inc. for fraud, saying they haven’t been paid for grains they sold to the Brinkley company.
The eight farmers, who have fields in Monroe, Phillips and Lee counties, said in a lawsuit filed in Lee County Circuit Court that they had commodities contracts to sell grain to Turner. They said Turner either hadn’t paid them for their products or that checks they received from the company didn’t clear.
Meanwhile, Turner had sold the grain to a third party, the lawsuit said.
The Lee County lawsuit isn’t the only legal action involving Turner. On Tuesday, Bruce Oakley Inc. of North Little Rock filed an interpleader in U.S. District Court in Little Rock asking a judge to decide what to do with the $360,000 it owes Turner.
The lawsuits are the first against Turner and its related entities since word of the company’s financial troubles began circulating last week. Sources have told Arkansas Business that the company appears to be close to filing for bankruptcy protection, leaving the farmers with whom it does business worried about breached contracts and possible losses.
Officials from Turner Grain have not answered repeated requests for interviews. The company had not filed for bankruptcy protection as of Wednesday morning.
Lee County Lawsuit
The farmers in the Lee County lawsuit operate under the names of High Roads Farms, Foran Farming, Greenleaf Farms, Roger Wilkison Farms, David and Lalain Wilkison Farms. Their lawsuit supplies almost no other details about what happened, including how much money the farmers allegedly lost or when the allegations occurred. The farmers' attorneys, Louis Etoch of Helena and David Hodges of Little Rock, didn't return a call Wednesday morning.
Several entities related to Turner Grain are named as defendants, including Neauman Coleman & Co. of Brinkley, Turner Commodities Inc. of Dumas, Brinkley Truck Brokerage LLC of Brinkley, Agri-Petroleum Sales LLC and Agri-Business Properties LLC.
Jason Coleman and Dale Bartlett, who have an ownership interest in Turner Grain, are also named as defendants.
The 10-page lawsuit also alleges that the defendants "have transferred funds from one or more of the Defendants to the other Defendants, concerning property rights, belonging to the Plaintiffs."
The farmers want a restraining order placed against Turner Grain and the other defendants to prevent them from disposing of any assets.
The farmers are also seeking an unspecified amount of damages for several counts including breach of contract, conversion and negligence.
Bruce Oakley Interpleader
At Bruce Oakley, company leaders are working to make sure it isn’t exposed to lawsuits or other liabilities involving the Turner case.
David Choate, Bruce Oakley’s vice president of grain and barge operation, told Arkansas Business on Monday that the company planned to turn over money it owes Turner to a judge.
"We have a small amount of [Turner's] money because they do deliver to us and sell to us, but we turned that all over to our legal department," Choate said. "Because we're not in a position to divvy out who [Turner] owes and who they don't owe."
"There are competing claims to the proceeds of grain in storage and proceeds of stopped payment check," the Oakley lawsuit said. "As a result, Oakley cannot make payment of the grain in storage or proceeds of stopped check without resolving disputed questions of fact, and exposing itself to multiple lawsuits, multiple liabilities, or both."
Oakley said those companies that have a claim are:
- Peco Foods of Newark, $148,930
- Ivory Rice LLC of Brinkley, $103,275
- Tyson Foods in Hope, $47,072
- Wayne Farms of Danville, $38,700
Oakley's attorney, Fletcher Lewis of McCrory, wasn't available for comment Wednesday morning.