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Court of Appeals rules in favor of JDA in Higdon suit

The Georgia Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling made in March by Superior Court Chief Judge A. Wallace Cato involving the Grady County Joint Development Authority and a former tenant.
The Court of Appeals issued its decision last Tuesday, Nov. 29, according to Grady County Joint Development Authority Attorney Thomas L. Lehman.
“The Court of Appeals found that the evidence supported the judgment against Joseph W. Higdon,” Lehman said.
The JDA attorney briefed members of the authority on the recent court action Tuesday.
Back in March, Judge Cato issued a judgment against Mr. Higdon, who personally guaranteed the lease of a Wight Road manufacturing facility custom built for Higdon Furniture Company, for $145,078.55 plus attorney’s fees of $21,761.78.
Higdon’s attorney then appealed Cato’s ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals in April seeking to overturn the judgment.
Lehman will now begin work to try to collect the judgment and prepare to sue for the rent payments, payments in lieu of taxes and attorney’s fees that have accrued since the court action began.
The original value of the lease, according to Lehman, was $1,725,982.72.
The 112,000 square foot facility on Wight Road was built by the JDA for use by Higdon Furniture Company. The company began production here in January 2005 and, at one time, employed 65 employees at the local plant. Then, in October 2007, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Although the company filed for bankruptcy and has since emerged from bankruptcy, the 20-year lease on the Wight Road plant was personally guaranteed by the senior Higdon.
Lehman told JDA members Tuesday he is hopeful Higdon will be more willing to negotiate a settlement after learning of the decision by the Court of Appeals.
Although Higdon could request the Georgia Supreme Court review the matter, Lehman believes that is unlikely.
The JDA attorney sought and received the authority to enter into negotiations with Higdon in the hope of settling the matter.
“I would not make any decisions without consulting the board, but it may require a special called meeting. If I hear a figure I think you might could live with, I will bring it back to you,” Lehman said.
Lehman says the rent and other costs that accrued probably total nearly $400,000 at the present time. Should negotiations fail, Lehman will be prepared to issue another suit.
In the meantime, he will be recording the fi fa in Grady County and in any other Georgia county where Higdon has interests. Lehman will also seek to have a Florida judgment recorded in Gadsden County where Higdon is based, as well as in North Carolina, where the JDA attorney says Higdon owns “nearly a city block.”
JDA Chairman Charles M. Stafford instructed Lehman to do whatever necessary to “protect our interests.”
In other business Tuesday, the authority members:
Approved the establishment of a $100,000 line of credit with the local banks with the Heritage Industrial Complex as collateral.
Approved a new lease with Big Bend Agri Services for 61,000 feet of warehouse space at Heritage Industrial Complex for a three-year term at the rate of $1 per foot per month.
Discussed roof issues at the Heritage Industrial Complex. JDA member Chuck Thomas requested the opportunity to meet with the contractor who has done roof repairs at the complex in the past before approving any additional work.
Authorized the JDA chairman, on the recommendation of Lehman, to execute a consent and assumption agreement which indicates the JDA’s approval of Performance Food Group of Georgia, LLC, being acquired by Performance Food Group, Inc., of Colorado. Lehman said approval of the document does not impact the JDA’s exposure regarding the financing of the PFG facility here and is simply being requested for tax and legal purposes.

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