Supreme Court affirms ruling in family feud, clears way for children’s inheritance of coffee empire (AL)

The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday rejected the appeal of the widow of Mobile coffee baron Leroy Hill, removing the last obstacle to his children’s inheritance of the business that bears his name.

Hill’s death in 2009 set off a bitter legal dispute between Debbie Hill, his longtime employee who later became his wife, and his adult children. A jury last year awarded ruled that the children should have inherited the Leroy Hill Coffee Co. and a 3,500-acre family farm in Grand Bay. The jury awarded the children $7.44 million in damages.

Mobile County Circuit Judge James Wood later ruled that ownership of the business and the farm – including a 25,000-square-foot mansion -should revert to the plaintiffs. Debbie Hill appealed that decision, but on Friday, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled against her without publishing a written opinion.

“It’s a pretty big deal for the Hill family, obviously,” said David McDonald, an attorney who represented Debra Hill Stewart, Roy Wayne Hill and Todd Hill.

Attorneys for Debbie Hill could not immediately be reached for comment.

The children sued their stepmother in 2009, arguing that Leroy Hill agreed in 1983 as a condition of divorce from his first wife that he would give control of the company and farm to their four children and that Hill’s subsequent will giving the estate and the company to his second wife was invalid.

According to testimony, Leroy and Bonnie Hill divorced in 1984; later, she discovered that her ex-husband and Debbie Hill had been having an affair since 1976.

Stewart, the oldest of Hill’s children, testified at trial that she made a typed copy of the 1983 agreement at her father’s request but that it later disappeared. McDonald and co-counsel Vince Kilborn argued that Leroy or Debbie Hill destroyed it.

Debbie Hill’s last option is to ask the court to reconsider its decision, but that is a move that rarely succeeds. McDonald said he would ask Wood to supervise the transfer of the properties to the Hill children.

“We want there to be a smooth and quick transition,” he said.

McDonald said customers should not notice any difference with change of ownership. He said his clients’ first priority would be to make sure the employees have been well-treated.

“They’ve been locked out,” he said, referring to his clients, “so we don’t know what she’s been doing.”

The Leroy Hill Coffee Co. is one of the largest privately owned coffee companies in the country.

Attribution:

Supreme Court affirms ruling in family feud, clears way for children’s inheritance of coffee empire
Brendan Kirby
October 17, 2014
AL.com
http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2014/10/supreme_court_affirms_ruling_i.html

Share
News