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Byington v. Department of Agriculture

February 13, 2002

ALAN BYINGTON AND GENE BYINGTON, D/B/A BYINGTON BROTHERS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND CONLEY GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Carroll County. Nos. 97-MR-9; 00-MR-1 Honorable Michael T. Mallon, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger

Released for publication March 22, 2002.

ALAN BYINGTON AND GENE BYINGTON, D/B/A BYINGTON BROTHERS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND CONLEY GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Carroll County. Nos. 97-MR-9; 00-MR-1 Honorable Michael T. Mallon, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger

PUBLISHED

 The plaintiffs, Alan and Gene Byington, d/b/a Byington Brothers, filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Carroll County after defendant Illinois Department of Agriculture (the Department) found that they were not entitled to recovery under the Grain Code (240 ILCS 40/1--1 et seq. (West 1998)). The trial court reversed the decision of the Department and entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $85,642.91. The Department and defendant Conley Grain Company now appeal from the decision of the trial court, arguing that the plaintiffs' claim does not fall within the scope of the Grain Code. We affirm.

The instant controversy arose from the economic failure of Hahnaman-Albrecht, a licensed grain dealer and Class I grain warehouseman. See 240 ILCS 40/1--10(b) (West 1998). On February 13, 1997, the Department conducted a routine examination of Hahnaman-Albrecht's records and found a working capital deficiency of nearly $5 million. Consequently, on February 27, 1997, the Department suspended Hahnaman-Albrecht's grain dealer and warehouseman licenses. The Department then sent Hahnaman-Albrecht notice of a revocation hearing. On March 6, 1997, prior to the revocation hearing, Hahnaman-Albrecht voluntarily surrendered its grain licenses.

On March 7, 1997, Conley Grain was licensed by the Department as a grain dealer and Class I grain warehouseman. On that same day, Conley Grain entered into a successor agreement, acquiring all of Hahnaman-Albrecht's grain assets and obligations. See 240 ILCS 40/1--10(b) (West 1998). However, on March 13, 1997, Conley Grain surrendered its grain dealer and warehouse licenses.

Sometime after March 13, 1997, the plaintiffs filed a claim with the Department, seeking compensation pursuant to section 25--10 of the Grain Code (240 ILCS 40/25--10 (West 1998)). The plaintiffs contended that Conley Grain owed them for grain delivered to Hahnaman-Albrecht.

On July 21, 1998, the Department held an administrative hearing. The following evidence was introduced at the hearing. Alan Byington testified that in 1996 and 1997 the plaintiffs had sold 110,279 bushels of corn to Hahnaman-Albrecht and that they should have been paid $196,538.28 for the corn. Byington testified that they were paid only $95,771.92, leaving a balance of $100,756.36 still due. Alan Byington identified weight tickets documenting the delivery of 110,279 bushels of corn to Hahnaman-Albrecht. Alan Byington testified that when Hahnaman-Albrecht surrendered its licenses and was succeeded by Conley Grain, Hahnaman-Albrecht still owed the plaintiffs $100,756.36. Alan Byington maintained that Conley Grain did not pay this amount before surrendering its licenses.

Gerald Franks testified that he was a warehouse examiner for the Department. After Hahnaman-Albrecht surrendered its licenses, Franks examined Hahnaman-Albrecht's books to determine if any outstanding grain claims existed. Franks testified that, according to Hahnaman-Albrecht's records, the plaintiffs had been paid in full.

David Von Holten testified that he was an operations manager for Hahnaman-Albrecht. Von Holten testified that the discrepancy in Hahnaman-Albrecht's records and the plaintiffs' records stemmed from a contract dispute that arose between the parties in September 1995. Von Holten identified two unsigned contracts. According to these contracts, the plaintiffs had agreed to sell Hahnaman-Albrecht 50,000 bushels of corn at a future date. Subsequently, the price of corn rose and the plaintiffs denied entering into the contracts. When the plaintiffs refused to honor the contracts, Hahnaman-Albrecht purchased 50,000 bushels of corn on the Board of Trade at a higher price. Hahnaman-Albrecht charged the price difference of $72,725 against the plaintiffs' account. In 1996 and 1997, the plaintiffs continued to sell corn to Hahnaman-Albrecht. Before paying the plaintiffs for these sales however, Hahnaman-Albrecht deducted the disputed amount.

Von Holten also testified that it was customary for Hahnaman-Albrecht to take oral orders from sellers. Von Holten testified that it was Hahnaman-Albrecht's procedure to mail a copy of the contract to the seller the day after receiving an oral order, as a written confirmation of the order. Von Holten testified that, if the contracts were not ...


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