Sinclair CEO Loses Lawsuit Over Farm Land

By Kevin Eck 

A Baltimore County court has ruled against Sinclair CEO David Smith in a lawsuit over 95 acres of land he’s leasing.

Last year we reported that Smith plowed under about $100,000 of a corn crop planted by Stephen Pieper, who had been leasing the land. Smith, who bought the parcel a year before, claimed Pieper had been trespassing when he planted the crop and had ruined the soil. Pieper had signed a five year lease with the previous owner.

The Baltimore Sun reports, Pieper was awarded $1.5 million in punitive damages and $325,000 in additional damages for the crop that was plowed under.

“It’s been a rough couple of years,” said Pieper, who leases about 1,000 acres of farmland in Baltimore and Harford counties. “I hope this outcome protects farmers in the future in similar situations.”

An attorney for Smith said he is preparing post-trial motions asking the court for a new trial or to reverse the jury’s decision.

“We don’t think it bears any relationship to the evidence,” said Francis R. Laws of Thomas & Libowitz. “We obviously have a different view, and there are some things we feel fairly strongly about.”

Thomas C. Beach III, an attorney for Pieper, said his client feels vindicated.

“You don’t knock down 95 acres of corn to make a point,” said Beach, an attorney with Whiteford, Taylor & Preston in Columbia. “They sued him, claiming that they could break his lease, and he said, ‘No, I’ve prepaid rent for five years and expect to farm it for five years.'”

Corbett Farms II filed a lawsuit against Pieper in March 2013, saying the farmer breached the terms of the lease by failing to adequately treat the soil, prevent topsoil erosion or furnish soil samples for analysis. Pieper also blocked Smith from his land, padlocking the gate to the farm’s only access road, said the lawsuit, in which Smith accused Pieper of trespassing to plant the corn crop.

The jury found that Pieper did not trespass when he placed farming equipment on the nonleased portion of the property or in April 2014 when he planted the crop without Corbett Farms consent and blocked the property’s entrance.

Instead, on Pieper’s counterclaim, the jury found that Corbett Farms breached the lease and awarded Pieper $33,060 for three years’ worth of rent.

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