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Lawsuit reveals feud at Fieldale
Major shareholder claims board is shutting her out
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The daughter of a Fieldale Farms co-founder has sued the poultry giant, claiming she was denied access to company documents and was shut out of at least one decision as a member of the board of directors.

Betty Goldberg of Gainesville, the daughter of the late Joe S. Hatfield, has a lawsuit pending in Habersham County Superior Court that seeks a declaratory judgment against the Baldwin-based company.

Goldberg owns 18.2 percent of the shares of the closely held private company, according to her lawsuit.

As one of the largest independent poultry processors in the world, Fieldale’s annual sales are estimated by various business publications as being in excess of $450 million.

Court documents claim that as recently as February, Goldberg served on the Fieldale board of directors along with her brother, Joe M. Hatfield, and seven others. The board also included Gus Arrendale, John Arrendale and Cynthia Arrendale, relatives of the late company co-founders Lee and Tom Arrendale.

A response to the suit filed by Fieldale in March calls Goldberg a “former member of the board of directors.”

Goldberg claims in her lawsuit that in 2008 — the year her father died at age 84 — she “wanted to gain a better understanding of Fieldale and its business.”

“Despite being a director of the company, defendant responded to Goldberg’s requests for access to company information and documents with stonewalling,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit claims Fieldale President Tom Hensley repeatedly refused to provide Goldberg with access to documents.“On information and belief, Goldberg is the only Fieldale director who has requested and been denied access to company information and documents,” the suit alleges.

Goldberg claims that during a July 1, 2008 meeting — about a week after her father’s death — Hensley refused to answer a question about executive compensation. Hensley “partially relented” and told Goldberg how much the three executive members made as base salary, but refused to provide documentation and would not discuss bonuses, Goldberg claims in her lawsuit. The executive officers are Hensley, Gus Arrendale and Joe M. Hatfield.

Goldberg also claims that the board of directors took a vote on “an important Fieldale decision” after she left the meeting room.

Goldberg learned of Fieldale’s decision to buy shares of Habersham Bancorp by reading it in a newspaper, according to the lawsuit.

In her lawsuit, Goldberg seeks a court judgment “that, as a director of Fieldale, she has the right to access all company information and documents. Such relief will erase any uncertainty and insecurity with regard to any future requests to access company information and documents.”

In its answer to the lawsuit, the company stated that Goldberg “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

The company “denies each and every allegation of the plaintiff’s complaint” and says she lacks standing to make her claims, according to court documents.

A hearing initially scheduled for late March in front of Mountain Judicial Circuit Senior Superior Court Judge Robert Struble was postponed and a new court date has not been set in the case.

Neither side would comment to The Times about the lawsuit. Goldberg’s attorneys Ernest “Bucky” Woods of Clarkesville and Shawn Rabin of Dallas, Texas, both referred questions to New York-based lawyer Bill Carmody, who did not return several messages seeking comment. Jay Bennett, the attorney representing Fieldale for Atlanta law firm Alston and Bird, also did not return several messages last week.

Efforts to reach Goldberg and Fieldale representatives were also unsuccessful.

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