Posted in Firm News on June 24, 2014
ATLANTA, GA – On June 20, 2014, the Superior Court of Lowndes County entered an Order approving the settlement of this breach of trust/breach of fiduciary duty case, after 5 years of litigation, including an appeal to the Court of Appeals and petitions for certiorari to the Supreme Court.
Plaintiffs in the case had claimed damages in the range of $150 million to $221 million, plus punitive damages. Plaintiffs were represented by lead counsel Jim Butler, along with George Fryhofer, Buddy Morrison, and Tedra L. Cannella of Butler Wooten Peak; Bill Moore and Greg Voyles of Moore & Voyles, Valdosta; and Jerry Brimberry of Brimberry Kaplan & Brimberry, Albany.
The Plaintiffs included the descendants of Virginia Langdale Miller, the only daughter of Judge Harley Langdale Sr., the founder of The Langdale Company (“TLC”), an integrated timber, real estate, and manufacturing firm headquartered in Valdosta, Georgia, with interests in a wide variety of other businesses, including banking and car dealerships. TLC is one of the largest landowners in Georgia; its landholdings have included as much as 225,000 acres of timberland.
The Plaintiffs were beneficiaries of a trust established by Judge Langdale in 1959. The trust’s only asset was ownership of 25% of the stock of TLC. The defendants were Johnny Langdale, currently Chairman of TLC, and Harley Langdale Jr., now deceased but formerly Chairman of TLC, who were co-trustees of the trust, and TLC, the corporation Johnny and Harley Jr. controlled.
Plaintiffs contended that the defendant trustees lied to them about the terms of the trust, concealed the value of trust assets, and cheated the beneficiaries by selling the trust stock to TLC for a fraction of its true value, and that TLC aided and abetted those breaches of fiduciary duty.
TLC paid $27 million in 1999 for the trust stock, but Plaintiffs’ valuation experts testified that the value of the stock at that time was at least $125 million.
The case had been set for trial on June 2. A settlement agreement was signed on May 9, 2014, and that agreement was approved by the Superior Court on June 20, 2014.
The terms and conditions of the settlement are confidential.
“Our clients are very pleased with the settlement,” said Jim Butler, lead counsel for Plaintiffs. “They believe justice has finally been done for their family.”
Defense counsel included Bill Custer and Joey Burby of Bryan Cave, Atlanta; John Tatum and Rachel Fields of Hunter Maclean, Savannah; Jerome Strickland and Matt Strickland of Jones Cork & Miller, Macon; Faison Middleton, Louis Hatcher, and Sarah Kjellin of Watson Spence, Albany; Bill Holland of Coleman Talley, Valdosta; and Jerry Buchanan of Buchanan & Land, Columbus. Defendants were represented by at least seven law firms and at least eighteen lawyers. Ninety-eight motions were filed in the trial court; 68 orders were entered by the trial court; 47 depositions were taken; the Court of Appeals itself issued 42 orders.
The road to a trial setting had been a tortuous one. The initial lawsuit was filed on May 21, 2009. In 2011, the then-presiding Judge granted summary judgment to defendants. On November 30, 2012, the Court of Appeals reversed those rulings. Defendants all filed petitions for certiorari to the Supreme Court, which were denied. On remand, the then-presiding Judge recused himself, sua sponte; the other four Superior Court Judges in the Southern Judicial Circuit recused themselves; and a Senior Judge was appointed to preside over the case, Hon. J. Richard Porter of Cairo, Georgia.
During the course of the litigation the Superior Court appointed a new Trustee–Robert Harley Langdale of Valdosta, and a Guardian ad Litem to represent the interests of the unborn and minor contingent remaindermen of the trust–William M. McIntosh, an attorney in Moultrie, Georgia, who has long served as Mayor of that City. Both the Trustee and the Guardian elected to join the lawsuit as parties plaintiff.
With offices in Atlanta and Columbus, the Butler Wooten firm has been advocating for the rights of people and businesses since 1988. The firm handles civil cases nationwide and has built a reputation as a team of exceptional trial lawyers committed to pursuing full justice on behalf of injured clients and aggrieved businesses. The firm has achieved record-setting results on behalf of clients who have been injured or families that have lost loved ones in truck or automobile collisions, by defective products and in workplace or construction accidents. The firm also represents businesses that have been harmed as a result of breaches of fiduciary duties and contracts, and whistleblowers to bring a stop to fraud and wrongdoing that result in financial harm to United States taxpayers.