Appeals court reverses Hardin County ruling

LIMA — The Third District Court of Appeals reversed a ruling of a $5.3 million Hardin County verdict, saying that the case should have been dismissed before going to a jury trial.

The court ruled in favor of H&C Ag. Services LLC against Ohio Fresh Eggs, LLC and Trillium Farm Holdings, LLC. H&C does business as LandTech.

LandTech sued the companies, arguing it had three years left on a 10-year contract to remove and sell the manure from egg houses. LandTech’s 10-count suit sought a preliminary injunction to prevent cancelation of the contract. A Hardin County Common Pleas Court denied the injunction due to the judge not being able to find any provision in the 2006 contract that required the egg farms to provide all or any specific amount of manure to LandTech. LandTech took the case to trial and jury awarded LandTech the $5.3 million in November 2014.

The egg producers appealed the verdict to the Third District. The Third District Court said LandTech did not specify the quantity of manure the producers were to supply, so it did not have an enforceable contract.

Judge Vernon Preston explained that the key terms to the agreement were listed in the “service terms” portion of the contract where LandTech agreed to remove the manure, track the amounts, and bill the farms for it. It proposed “to broker all available tonnage per year of manure,” but then added a provision stating the specific quantity will be determined by both parties.

“In sum, the agreement’s discussion of the quantity of manure leaves an essential term of the contract — quantity — dependent on future agreements, and the supposed quantity term is not sufficiently specific to be enforced as LandTech seeks,” Preston wrote.

Judge Preston found LandTech can sue for any amount it paid to take but was not provided. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Judge Richard Rogers and Stephen Shaw concurred in the decision.

LandTech entered the contract with Ohio Fresh Eggs in 2006 to buy chicken manure from the egg farms for 10 years. LandTech removed, hauled, and field applied the manure on its customers’ fields from 2006 until 2013. Trillium Farm took over Ohio Fresh Eggs operations in 2013 and terminated the contract. LandTech’s damages were measured by the profits it was prevented from earning in the three years. Trillium argued that it was not a successor to Ohio Fresh Eggs as it merely leases the farm facilities, but the jury found otherwise.

LandTech is owned by Harry Landsberg and Craig Eibling, both of Hardin County. They did not return phone calls for comment.

Diane Hurd with Trillium released the following statement on the third district court’s decision: “We are pleased with the Court’s decision, which affirms our position all along, and allows us to continue our focus on the responsible operation of our farms and the production of safe, high-quality eggs.”

LandTech hauled manure from its egg-producing facilities in Hardin and Wyandot counties to spread it on area farms.

Trillium Farms took over Ohio Fresh Eggs in 2011 in a bid to solve three decades of turmoil surrounding pollution, health complaints, lawsuits and state-ordered shutdowns at the huge egg producer, which operates in Croton , Johnstown, Larue, Marseilles and Mt. Victory.

By Lance Mihm

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Reach Lance Mihm at 567-242-0409 or at Twitter@LanceMihm