Farmer Claims 'Bad Faith,' Countersues Packer

Sued by a meat company last month alleging fraud, a New Hampshire woman has countersued, alleging a "bad faith" attempt to avoid payment for livestock. ( Texas A&M )

A New Hampshire woman who was the target of a lawsuit filed in May, has filed a countersuit against a meat company claiming that she is the victim and not the meat company. Suzanne Chickering’s counterclaim filed in federal court alleges the original suit filed against her is actually a “bad faith” attempt to avoid paying her $127,981.44 for 62 cattle and 37 hogs.

Chickering and her father Arthur Chickering III, were sued by Walden Local, a meat company in North Billerica, Mass., alleging they bribed Jeffrey Nichols, an employee of Vermont Packinghouse (VPH), a slaughterhouse in North Springfield, VT, to falsify weight records of the livestock.

Alleging a conspiracy with Nichols to falsify the records, the suit claims the result was an overpayment of "at least $173,976 to Suzanne Chickering for the meat itself and $49,492 to VPH for the processing of the meat in 2017 and 2018."

According to a report in the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer, Suzanne Chickering is an eighth-generation farmer who grew up on Chickering Farm in Westmoreland, a farm that has been in the Chickering family since the 1760s.

"Ms. Chickering never bribed any Vermont Packinghouse employee, and is not aware of anyone else doing so allegedly on her behalf," according to Chickering’s attorney Ritchie Berger. Since 2016, according to Berger, Chickering sold “hundreds of animals each year" to Walden Local, which contracted with Vermont Packinghouse to slaughter, process and deliver the meat.

In the countersuit, Berger wrote "Vermont Packinghouse did not weigh and/or slaughter Ms. Chickering's animals immediately after receiving them. On one occasion, cattle from two different sellers — one of whom was Ms. Chickering — broke down a gate and mixed together. They were not re-sorted by Vermont Packinghouse before they were slaughtered ..."

Berger also noted that his client received payment from Walden Local "without any indication as to how much the animals she provided for sale to Walden had weighed, or any way to verify the accuracy of the amount Walden paid her for the meat it received from Vermont Packinghouse."

Attorneys for Chickering’s father, Arthur Chickering III filed a motion for dismissal of the suit against him the same day his daughter filed the countersuit. His attorney said claims of fraud and civil conspiracy are unsupported by the facts laid out in the suit by Walden Local. While Chickering did deliver animals to VPH, the contract was solely between Walden Local and his daughter.

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