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WESTMORELAND, N.H. — A suit filed by a Massachusetts meat company against a pair of local farmers was recently dismissed following a confidential settlement.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Walden Local agreed to drop the suit against Suzanne Chickering and her father, Arthur Chickering III. Suzanne Chickering also agreed to drop a counter-claim against Walden Local. All parties agreed that with dismissal of the suit they will pursue no further legal action.

"Suzanne is an honest, extremely hard-working young woman," said Ritchie Berger, of Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew in Burlington. "She never should have been sued in the first place. This suit deserved to be and was dismissed."

Attorneys for Walden Local, a meat company in North Billerica, Mass., filed a suit against the Chickerings, who raise beef, pork and lamb in Westminster, alleging they bribed an employee of a Vermont slaughterhouse to falsify weight records.

Walden Local accused the Chickerings of conspiring with Jeffrey Nichols, of Rutland, a lead cutter on the kill floor of Vermont Packinghouse in North Springfield "to falsify the weight records of the animals ..."

Walden Local alleged that the changes made by Nichols resulted in an overpayment of "at least $173,976 to Suzanne Chickering for the meat itself and $49,492 to VPH for the processing of the meat in 2017 and 2018.

Nichols was named as a co-defendant in the civil suit and court records do not indicate that he has been dismissed from the suit.

Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill told the Reformer that his office has received a criminal referral from the Springfield Police Department related to Nichols' employment at Walden Local but couldn't comment further as the referral is still under review.

On behalf of Suzanne Chickering, Berger filed a counterclaim against Walden Local, contending his client did not defraud the meat company and that, in fact, Walden Local owed his client money. Berger said Walden Local settled with his client, paying her an amount that remains confidential.

"Walden dismissed the suit against her and paid on her counterclaim, establishing there was no basis for the lawsuit they brought," he said.

Suzanne Chickering remains in business, said Berger, "But I can't imagine she would do business with Walden Local again."

Earlier this month, on Dec. 18, the suit was dismissed against Arthur Chickering III.

In October, his attorneys filed a motion for dismissal of fraud and civil conspiracy claims. Daniel R. Long, of Paul Frank and Collins in Burlington, noted that Walden Local's claims against his client failed because they accused him only of transporting the animals to the packinghouse in North Springfield and that he allegedly "bribed" Nichols to change weight recordings of the livestock. Walden Local's attorneys later amended their filing to change "bribe" to "paid with cash," noted Long.

"[T]he Amended Complaint does not even allege that Mr. Chickering saw or had knowledge of any 'reports' containing the amount of meat sold or reported to [Walden Local]," wrote Long. "To the contrary, the Amended Complaint concedes that Mr. Chickering's responsibilities were limited to transporting livestock to VPH for slaughter and processing. ... "

As far as whether Arthur Chickering III paid Nichols "surreptitiously," wrote Long, "Plaintiff does not allege, for example, where or when these 'cash payments' occurred, the number of 'cash payments' that were made, the amount of cash paid, how much the hang weights were altered by the 'cash payments,' or how any 'cash payments' subsequently affected any invoices."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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