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Almond growers settle contract disputes for $4 million

About 80 percent of the world's supply of almonds is grown in California, and there are over 5,000 almond growers in the state. Agriculture is always risky, however, and almond growers in California do have to struggle each year to get a crop out. Right now a drought and a shortage of honeybees to pollinate the crops are the main problems. Because almond harvesting is big business in California, contract disputes involving almond growers and other businesses are common.

A recent lawsuit involving an almond grower and a middleman investor resulted in a nine-week trial after which the jury awarded the middleman $2.8 million in damages for breach of contract. The almond grower is Trinitas Partners, a company based in Menlo Park. According to the plaintiff, Trinitas breached the contract and then ran him out of the project. Witnesses testified that Trinitas was known to have enticed other growers and then breached its contracts with them.

On the other hand, Trinitas is generally credited with taking barren land good only for cattle grazing and turning it into lucrative orchards. Growers in California's central valley grossed about $1.2 billion in 2011. With respect to the contract disputes, the middleman stated that Trinitas kept making oral representations than changed its position later.

He sued the company and has walked away with a $4 million settlement. In return, he'll drop a still-pending claim for punitive damages. Apparently, the plaintiff was able to portray Trinitas as the Bay Area big money interests coming into the central valley and taking advantage of local businesses, according to some observers.

In California contract disputes, the non-breaching party is sometimes entitled to sue for the lost profits that he would have made if there had not been a breach. When the measure of lost profits involves computing the earnings that the company could have made, it's difficult to prove a precise amount, especially for a beginning venture. In such cases, the plaintiff must present its best evidence to try and show a reasonably accurate estimate of losses. That seems to be what happened here, but the parties simplified things by finally entering into a settlement agreement.

Source: Merced Sun-Star, Dispute fetches $4 million from almond giants, Garth Stapley, Feb. 1, 2014

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