The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of Prairie Farms Dairy (PFD), locked in a long-term dispute with a Highland couple over a milk marketing agreement.
Michael and Denise Richter originally sued PFD in Madison County in 2006, claiming they were wrongfully terminated from an agricultural cooperative in October 2005 because they had temporarily ceased milk production. The Richters claim they had invested substantial capitol and labor and planned to resume production within a year, pursuant to the agreement, but that PFD terminated them anyway and returned just $15 to redeem their common stock.
The Richters seek a judgment of more than $200,000 and an order to purchase their common stock for its fair value, which they claim exceeds $50,000.
After litigating the case for six years, the Richters moved to dismiss without prejudice, which Circuit Judge Dave Hylla granted in September 2012. The case was refiled a year later with Prairie Farms board of directors and Edward Mullins added as defendants, however they were never served, according to the record. The new complaint contained four counts: shareholder remedies, misrepresentation, common-law fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.
After the new case was filed, Prairie Farms Dairy argued for transfer to Macoupin County, which Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian granted in December 2013.
In June 2014, Macoupin County Judge Patrick J. Londrigan granted PFD's motion to dismiss the refiled action on grounds it was barred by the doctrine of res judicata - when a final judgment has been made in a case and it is no longer subject to appeal - and the statute of limitations.
The Richters then appealed to the Fourth District Appellate Court, which agreed with them and reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
The Fourth District found that the refiled complaint was permissible and that the Richters could assert new theories of relief or recovery pertaining to PFD's termination of the agreement and their membership in the cooperative.
The court also found that PFD, as the party seeking to invoke the doctrine of res judicata, failed to carry its burden of proving a final judgement was entered upon the merits.
"Since the dismissal order in Richter I was not a final order, res judicata does not bar plaintiffs’ refiled suit against defendant," Justice Carol Pope wrote.
The Illinois Supreme Court allowed PFD's petition for leave to appeal on Sept. 30.
Todd W. Sivia and Paul A. Marks of Sivia Law in Edwardsville represent the Richters.
Donald K. Shoemaker and Andrew J. Tessman of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in Swansea represent Prairie Farms Dairy.