Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds ruling on Fond du Lac County property

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 10:20 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - A fight over the United Cooperative grain facility in Ripon is heading back to Fond du Lac County Circuit Court after the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld lower courts’ rulings setting the price tag for the property.

According to the high court’s decision Wednesday, Country Visions Cooperative had a contractual right of first refusal on Archer-Daniels-Midland Company property in Ripon. Country Visions found out in October 2015 ADM was negotiating to sell the property to United.

Country Visions sued ADM and United, claiming once Country Visions pointed out it had the right to match any offer on the property, ADM and United artificially inflated the price to $20 million for the property, excluding inventory and personal property. In court, Country Visions presented an expert who said the property’s fair market value was $7.7 million. ADM and United argued the Ripon property deserved a higher value in part because of “unique synergies” the property would give United’s business.

The circuit court agreed the $20 million was a “sham” and an “arbitrarily inflated price” to keep Country Visions out of the deal. The judge decided an appropriate price for the property was $16.6 million and gave Country Visions 15 days to exercise its right of first refusal. Instead, Country Visions appealed, but the appellate court upheld most of the circuit court’s ruling. It added that the lower court needed to decide if $16.6 million would include personal property, which wasn’t spelled out in the original right-of-first-refusal contract.

Taking its case to the state’s Supreme Court, Country Visions said the circuit court set the $16.6 million “based on United’s willingness to pay more than the appraised value” of the property. Country Visions asked the Supreme Court to reduce the price to $7.7 million. The high court unanimously declined in its decision Wednesday. The court said prospective buyers are allowed to offer more than a property’s appraised value, even when there’s a right of first refusal, and especially when the purchase includes a package deal.

The case now goes back to the circuit court to determine if the $16.6 million price tag should include anything besides the property.

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