A fraud suit that originated 10 years ago in Madison County will be argued at the Illinois Supreme Court on Jan. 14.
Prairie Farms Dairy (PFD) is appealing a Fourth District Appellate Court decision
involving a milk marketing agreement that went in favor of plaintiffs Michael and Denise Richter of Highland in June.
The Richters claim they were wrongfully terminated from an agricultural cooperative in October 2005 because they had temporarily ceased milk production. In their first suit filed in Madison County in 2006, the Richters alleged 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 Madison County 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.
Fourth District judges blamed Prairie Farms for failing to obtain final judgment.
“We note although nearly five years elapsed between the plaintiffs were given leave to file an amended complaint and their voluntary dismissal, defendant did not take any steps to put a definitive end to the case by filing a motion to dismiss the fraud counts with prejudice,” they wrote.
In November, the Illinois Association of Defense Counsel filed a brief in support of Prairie Farms Dairy, arguing that court orders dismissing civil actions should count as final judgments if plaintiffs ignore deadlines to amend.
“An order which grants a plaintiff leave to amend where the plaintiff chooses not to amend within the specified time is no different than an order which does not grant leave to amend,” attorney Ann Barron of Edwardsville wrote for the IDC.
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.