Most of the hemp litigation we’ve written about has concerned a hemp purchaser suing a hemp farmer. This week concerns a $2.5 million lawsuit recently filed in Oregon wherein a hemp farmer sued a CBD processor.
The plaintiff, JNV Farms, alleges that in the fall of 2018 it entered into a manufacturing agreement with one of the defendants, C&N Ag LLC (“C&N”), by which JNV Farms was to provide industrial hemp to C&N who was to process the hemp into CBD Isolate and market and sell the finished product. The complaint alleges that profits were to be split 50/50.
According to the complaint, JNV Farms provided the defendants 13,800 lbs of biomass in December 2018. The defendants represented they were testing and preparing to process the material. After JNV Farms made repeated inquiries, defendants became less communicative then eventually refused to respond at all, and refused to meet with JNV Farms or permit inspection of the hemp or finished product.
JNV Farms claimed the defendants (i) neglected or refused to complete the work contemplated by the contract, (ii) failed to return the industrial hemp, (iii) failed and refused to compensate JNV Farms for the hemp, and (iv) failed to provide JNV Farms any of the CBD Isolate or the share of revenue from its sale. JNV Farms alleged claims for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, conversion, and fraud.
Finally – and not insignificantly – the complaint seeks to pierce the corporate veil and to hold the two owners of C&N, defendants Mock and Eastburn, personally responsible for the liabilities of C&N. This claim, perhaps more than the others, may strike fear into the defendants. As every business owner knows (or should know) a key purpose of incorporation is to shield company assets from being used to satisfy company obligations. The goal of a veil-piercing claim is to reach past the corporate shield and into the pockets of owners or investors.
Piercing the corporate veil is difficult. As it should be. But the complaint appears to allege facts sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Notably the complaint alleges that when Mock and Eastburn negotiated the contract, and as of the date it was executed, that C&N was not yet in existence because no paperwork had yet been filed with the Oregon Secretary of State. This fact, if true, is not necessarily dispositive. (Indeed, if there was no corporation there is no need to pierce the corporate veil). But no one entering million-dollar contracts (Mock and Eastburn) ought to do so without having completed the necessary steps to form an entity. On the flip side, JNV Farms likely could have done a better job protecting its investment and the lawsuit may, as it often does, come down to whether the defendants have any recoverable assets. Time will tell.
For more on the recent wave of Oregon hemp litigation, check out the following: