Kentucky farmers target tobacco merchant in suit

Several Kentucky farmers have filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that a prominent tobacco merchant failed to honor contracts to purchase their burley tobacco.

The lawsuit was filed against Universal Leaf North America last week in Harrison Circuit Court. The suit claims hundreds of farmers lost what amounted to millions from the 2010 crop year, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The plaintiffs, including Jerry Feagan of Berry, Steve Lang of Cynthiana and Thomas Leach and Larry O’Neill, both of Dry Ridge, say agents of Universal Leaf North America refused to accept tobacco. They are seeking monetary damages.

A phone message left with Universal’s parent company, Universal Corp., was not immediately returned Monday.

According to the lawsuit, ULNA “unilaterally decided to forgo the inspection process and almost universally rejected the tobacco that it had contracted tobacco producers to deliver” to the Cynthiana receiving station.

Attorney Jack S. Gatlin said there was nothing in the farmers’ contracts that said the company could simply decide not to purchase tobacco.

“A lot of people are financially crippled by this,” Gatlin said.

He said most of the farmers were told there was no longer a market for the tobacco.


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