Chancellor wants cattle on the moo-ve!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Marshall County cattleman has been directed by the Chancery Court here to deliver 1,875 head of cattle to a Texas feed yard company as a result of an agreed order arising from litigation brought by Texas businessmen.

Attorneys in Tennessee representing both sides declined to comment on Monday, but the complaint and order indicate that Chancellor J.B. Cox's directive may have resolved a dispute by the end of this week, assuming the cattle drive is completed as agreed.

While it's not the sort of cattle drive portrayed in movies showing cowboys in America's wild west, this real-life story line boasts a cast of characters that includes one who claims to be facing a Louisiana law that allows the arrest of men who don't pay for cattle in a timely fashion.

Bert Smith IV of Gold Road, Lewisburg, runs the B4 Cattle Co. Inc. For years he's been doing business with the Wheeler, Texas, Feed Yard, which advanced him money for cattle that he raised on grass and feed, largely in Marshall, Maury and Dickson counties.

The complaint filed on Aug. 8 in Chancery Court indicates that Wheeler had for several months tried to determine whether B4 Cattle had a herd as large as expected. Without a definitive answer, Wheeler alleged Smith, through B4 Cattle, had a debt owed to the Wheeler Feed Yard amounting to approximately $8.4 million.

According to the complaint filed by Jonathan Cole and Sonya R. Smith of the Nashville-based law firm of Baker Donelson, Wheeler's vice president, Stacy McCasland, came to Tennessee "to get a handle on and locate the cattle that should be there."

McCasland was able to locate nearly 4,100 head of cattle, including cows and calves, the complaint states.

In a document dubbed "The McCasland Affidavit," the Wheeler vice president reported that when Smith was advised of pending litigation, Smith "plainly stated ... over and over again ... that he would not deliver cattle from Tennessee as demanded ... and ... he would immediately begin to ship cattle to other places to sell or encumber in order to 'get money.'"

That was alleged to be breach of contract and Wheeler complained there would "be substantially insufficient cattle to satisfy the debt owed" to the feed yard.

Wheeler sought and won a temporary order from the chancellor to stop such cattle transactions.

A Wheeler County, Texas, District Court issued a temporary restraining order, according to the complaint filed here in Marshall County Chancery Court.

During his inspection trip to Tennessee, the Wheeler vice president learned from Smith that a cattle deal Smith had with Louisiana cattleman Gary Thompson might lead to legal entanglements under Louisiana law, according to the affidavit.

Smith had explained to McCasland that failure to pay for cattle within a certain period of time gives rise to a presumption that the cattle were taken pursuant to criminal intent, according to the affidavit.

Thompson was reported as "vociferously threatening to prosecute Mr. Smith," according to McCasland's affidavit.

Smith's intention to deal with the prospect of criminal prosecution before a civil complaint became clear to McCasland, but civil litigation ensued here.

On Wednesday last week, the chancellor signed an agreed order that called for cattle to be made available for shipment on Thursday to Wheeler, Texas. That's to be resolved before Thompson and others might stake a claim.

"The shipping of the Tennessee feeder cattle shall be completed by 5 p.m. Aug. 28 ... weather permitting," according to the settlement agreement filed in Marshall County Chancery Court. Cecilia West Spivy represented Smith and B4 Cattle, and Sonya R. Smith represented Wheeler Feed Yard.

The agreed order signed by the chancellor and attorneys for both sides in the dispute here refers to a settlement agreement that states both sides are settling the case. The settlement agreement includes some deadlines that could not be verified without comment from the lawyers.