Bay Area farmers accuse billionaire-backed company of pressure tactics

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In an aerial view, windmills are seen near parcels of land that were recently purchased on August 29, 2023 near Rio Vista, California.

In an aerial view, windmills are seen near parcels of land that were recently purchased on August 29, 2023 near Rio Vista, California.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The allegations were made public last week in a report summarizing a conference between the two parties about an ongoing lawsuit, which Flannery Associates filed in May. Flannery Associates’ complaint alleged that some Solano County landowners were colluding to artificially raise prices, costing the company $170 million. Flannery is suing them for at least $510 million in damages. 

In meetings held on September 12 and 19, which were summarized in a court record filed last week, the defendants accused Flannery of muscling farmers off of their land by purchasing tracts from underneath them, then evicting them. They also alleged that Flannery used dishonest messaging to pit families against each other, “misrepresenting the families’ intentions regarding Flannery’s offers” in order to pressure other families to sell. 

In another incident cited by the defendants, “eight branches of descendants” owned shares of inherited land, but only one wished to sell. Flannery allegedly purchased the one available lot, then sued the other seven farmers.

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“Once litigation was filed, the tactics were clear,” the landowners’ defense reads. “Flannery would use the expense of litigation to drive the farmers to surrender. The farmers’ only offense was their desire not to sell land their families had, in some cases, owned for generations.”

Where the residents told the story of a powerful group preying on families, Flannery’s attorneys painted a picture of wealthy conspirators, intent on bleeding the company dry. In both the original complaint and the newly filed conference summary, Flannery’s representatives referred to the defendants as “a group of wealthy landowners.”

The company claimed that the residents conspired to squeeze it for millions of dollars, even though its offers were more than generous. 

“If the Conspirators had acted independently, they could have each individually negotiated a sale with Flannery and made tens of millions of dollars in profits,” Flannery’s original complaint reads. “But the Conspirators wanted to make hundreds of millions.”

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