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Terra Partners v. Ag Acceptance Corp.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 7, 2017

TERRA PARTNERS; TERRA XXI, LTD.; ROBERT WAYNE VEIGEL; ELLA MARIE WILLIAMS VEIGEL; VEIGEL FARMS, INC.; VEIGEL CATTLE COMPANY; and VEIGEL FARM PARTNERS, Plaintiffs,
v.
AG ACCEPTANCE CORPORATION, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING AG ACCEPTANCE'S MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND FOR SANCTIONS

          William P. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

         This case arises out of a series of promissory notes executed in Texas in 1997 and 1998 by certain of the Plaintiffs[1] to Ag Services, Inc. As security for the notes, Terra XXI, Ltd. gave Ag Services third mortgages on real property it owned in Deaf Smith County, Texas, and Quay and Guadalupe counties in New Mexico. Ag Services subsequently assigned the notes to Ag Acceptance Corporation. Plaintiffs defaulted on the notes in 2003, and in September of 2003 Ag Acceptance purchased the Texas property at a foreclosure sale for $20, 000, subject to two senior mortgages on the property.

         Litigation between the Plaintiffs, Ag Acceptance, and other creditors of Plaintiffs began soon thereafter, spawning four Texas state court cases, five lawsuits filed in federal court in Texas, and a foreclosure lawsuit filed in New Mexico state court. Three of those cases are particularly important in the resolution of this case.

         In 2007, James and Melanie Friemel filed suit against both Terra Partners and Ag Acceptance to determine who owned the rights to the 2006 - 2007 wheat crop that was planted on the Texas property. The case evolved into a much larger battle between Plaintiffs, Ag Acceptance, and Rabo Agrifinance, the parent company of Ag Acceptance, over ownership rights to the Texas property. On November 6, 2008, Plaintiffs, Ag Acceptance, and Rabo Agrifinance settled all claims between them (the Friemel Agreement). The agreement provides (in part) that Plaintiffs will not contest Ag Acceptance's "right of title, ownership, possession and/or lease" of the Texas property. It also allows Plaintiffs to pursue "any issues in . . . [l]itigation, including cross claims, in New Mexico related to the foreclosure of the New Mexico property."

         In 2007, Rabo Agrifinance filed a foreclosure lawsuit in New Mexico state court against Plaintiffs concerning promissory notes executed in Texas by Plaintiffs in 1994. These notes were secured in part by a first mortgage on the New Mexico property. Rabo Agrifinance had obtained a judgment in Texas against Plaintiffs for non-payment of the notes, and domesticated that judgment in New Mexico in December of 2006. After extensive litigation in both the trial and appellate courts of New Mexico, the trial court foreclosed the mortgage on the New Mexico property and on May 4, 2016, approved the Special Master's sale of the property.

         In December of 2012, the Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Rabo Agrifinance and Ag Acceptance on Terra Partners' claims that Rabo and Ag Acceptance had converted its property. Terra Partners v. Rabo Agrifinance, Inc., 504 F.App'x. 288, 289 (5th Cir. 2012). The Fifth Circuit imposed monetary sanctions against Steve Veigel, the managing partner of Terra Partners, for bad faith litigation conduct in seeking to argue that prior decisions of the Fifth Circuit “are legal nullities that are void ab initio.” Id. at 290. Because the Circuit had previously rejected this argument, Veigel's attempt to raise “a patently frivolous legal argument and threatening continued meritless litigation” constituted bad faith that warranted sanctions. Id. The Circuit also imposed a litigation bar/injunction that prevents Plaintiffs from filing any document in federal court without first presenting it to the federal court in the Northern District of Texas to determine whether the issues presented have already been litigated. Id. at 291.

         On November 15, 2012, more than nine years after Ag Acceptance foreclosed on the Texas property, it sold the Texas property to Champion Feeders, Inc. Plaintiffs allege that the sale price exceeded $6, 100, 000, an amount Plaintiffs claim was sufficient to satisfy the Texas judgment against them and the amount they owed to Ag Acceptance on promissory notes secured by Ag Acceptance's mortgage on the New Mexico property.

         This case began in 2014 when Plaintiffs filed suit in state court in New Mexico. Plaintiffs asserted three affirmative causes of action against Ag Acceptance: Count I - a claim for an accounting of proceeds that Ag Acceptance received from the 2012 sale of the Texas property to Champion Feeders; Count II - a claim for unjust enrichment based on the sale of the Texas property; and Count III - a claim seeking to impose a constructive trust on the proceeds Ag Acceptance received from the sale of the Texas property. Under Count II, Plaintiffs requested a judgment for monetary damages against Ag Acceptance as a result of the sale of the Texas property. Plaintiffs also requested a declaratory judgment in Count IV, seeking a ruling that their promissory notes had been satisfied in full and that Ag Acceptance's continuing liens on the New Mexico property were improper and should be released.

         Ag Acceptance removed the case to federal court in New Mexico and requested that the case be transferred to the Northern District of Texas, which had jurisdiction to evaluate whether Plaintiffs' pleadings violated the Fifth Circuit's litigation bar/injunction and where prior cases between the parties had been litigated. The motion to transfer was granted, and shortly thereafter Plaintiffs filed an Amended Petition that contained the same four claims against Ag Acceptance. Ag Acceptance filed a counterclaim against Plaintiffs for breach of the Friemel Agreement. Ag Acceptance subsequently filed a motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment against Plaintiffs. In September of 2016, Judge Robinson, the District Judge assigned to the case in Texas, denied Ag Acceptance's motion for summary judgment but partially granted its motion to dismiss. Judge Robinson dismissed the affirmative causes of action found in Counts I, II and III with prejudice, declined to rule on Count IV, the request for declaratory relief, because its resolution depended on rulings of New Mexico state courts, and transferred the case back to this Court.

         At issue are four motions filed by the parties: 1) Ag Acceptance's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims (Doc. 96); 2) motions for summary judgment filed by both Ag Acceptance and Plaintiffs on the counterclaim for breach of contract Ag Acceptance filed against Plaintiffs (Docs. 96 and 100); and 3) Ag Acceptance's motion for Rule 11 sanctions against Plaintiffs (Doc. 98).

         Ag Acceptance's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims in their Amended Petition may be resolved quickly. In their response to the motion, Plaintiffs agree that Judge Robinson's order operates as a dismissal of Counts I, II and III of their Amended Petition. They further admit that, since the New Mexico foreclosure is now final, their request for declaratory relief in Count IV is moot. Accordingly, Ag Acceptance's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims is granted and those claims are dismissed with prejudice.

         Both Plaintiffs and Ag Acceptance seek summary judgment on the counterclaim for breach of contract that Ag Acceptance has asserted against Plaintiffs. Ag Acceptance asserts that Plaintiffs' claims in this case challenge Ag Acceptance's right of title and ownership of the Texas property, thereby breaching the Friemel Agreement. Plaintiffs do not contest the validity of the Friemel Agreement, but dispute that it precludes them from bringing this case.

         In evaluating this issue, it is helpful to examine the substantive claims asserted by Plaintiffs to the Texas property in the Friemel litigation. After the Friemels were dismissed from the lawsuit, Terra Partners filed an amended cross claim against Ag Acceptance on October 3, 2008. Terra Partners asserted the following claims in the cross claim: that Ag Acceptance's promissory notes had been discharged in bankruptcy, that Ag Acceptance's foreclosure of the Texas property in 2003 was null and void, that the Texas state court judgment upholding the foreclosure was null and void, and finally that Ag Acceptance's claim to title of the Texas property was null and void. Terra Partners demanded that Ag Acceptance return the Texas property to Terra Partners "free and clear of any claim or interest" by Ag Acceptance.

         A little more than one month later, Plaintiffs, Ag Acceptance and Rabo Agrifinance executed the Friemel Agreement. The agreement provides that Terra Partners and its counsel will receive $125, 000 related to the 2006 - 2007 wheat crop, and that Ag Acceptance and Rabo Agrifinance will receive the remainder of the funds in the court's registry. Paragraph 5 of the agreement states that, from the date of the agreement forward, Plaintiffs will not contest Ag Acceptance and Rabo Agrifinance's "right of title, ownership, possession and/or lease" of the Texas property. Paragraph 5 of the agreement also states that it does not preclude Plaintiffs from pursuing any issues in ...


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