BURLINGTON — An attorney representing the American Highland Cattle Association has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit the association is facing over allegations members there have filed baseless ethics violations against a Plainfield farm that have hurt its business.
Ray Shatney and Janet Steward have been raising and selling the grass-fed cattle for years. The family bought its first cow in 1967 and they say the Shat Acres cattle are the oldest Highland herd in the country. They’ve won numerous awards showing their cattle, and in 2016, they were named the U.S. Small Business Association’’s Vermont Family-owned Business of the Year.
The pair have been long-time members of the association and have held positions within the association in the past.
In April, they filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Burlington against the association saying members have filed bogus ethics violations in an attempt to ruin their reputation. They are suing claiming violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, violation of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing and breach of contract.
Montpelier attorney Robin Freeman represents the couple and said they want to be able to show and sell their livestock without fear of retaliation or harassment by the association or its members.
According to the lawsuit, a former president, who is not a defendant in the suit thus far, is one of the main instigators in the harassment. The suit said two ethics violations were filed against Shatney and Steward and they were ultimately exonerated by the association.
The process was supposed to be confidential, but the couple said officials at the association leaked the complaints to other members which caused them to see Shatney and Steward as unethical. Members then stopped buying from them, according to the lawsuit.
On Monday, Meredith Lasna, an attorney who represents the association, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Lasna, who did not return a request for comment Thursday, did not deny the allegations in her motion. Instead, she wrote the lawsuit was improper because the association’s rules and regulations specifically state if there is a dispute that needs litigation, it is to take place in state court in Colorado.
Lasna said the federal court in Vermont does not have jurisdiction in the case because while there are members of the association in Vermont, the association itself does not do business in the state.
She also said some of the claims made in the lawsuit deal with conduct that took place more than four years ago. She cited the Clayton Act which says federal antitrust actions have a statute of limitations of four years.
Freeman, the attorney who represents Steward and Shatney, said in an email Thursday, “The Association’s motion does not argue the merits of the claims made by Janet and Ray but seeks to dismiss them based solely on technical, procedural grounds. We feel confident that the Court will deny the motion and allow the case to proceed.
“Janet and Ray look forward to having their claims heard and resolved so that they, and other members of the Association, can operate their businesses and farms without fear of retaliation or harassment. They believe that this will ultimately make the Association stronger and more capable of fulfilling its mission of supporting all breeders of Highland cattle.”
Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy will issue a decision on the motion.