Sibling dispute results in U.S. District Court Judge awarding $540 million to sisters

A recent story reported in the Cincinnati Business Courier found here, discusses a decision by a U.S. District Court Judge awarding the female siblings of the Griffin family hundreds of millions of dollars from their parents’ estates.  The sibling dispute involves the children of John L. Griffin and Rosellen Griffin.

John L. Griffin was the founder of Griffin Industries Inc. in 1943.  According to Griffin Industries Inc. is the second largest independent rendering company in the United States of America.  The company employs approximately 1,000 people and has annual sales of 292.1 million (2003 est.).  More on Griffin Industries Inc. here.  John L. Griffin and his wife Rosellen had 12 children.  The dispute was apparently between the daughters and some of their sons.  Two lawsuits were filled: one by Elizabeth A. Osborn, and another by Linda G. Holt, Judith E. Prewitt and Cynthia L. Roeder.

Justice William O. Bertelsman had apparently urged the parties to compromise throughout the process, but a resolution was not reached.  The dispute carried on for many years and was related to allegations made by some of the sisters as early as 30 years ago.  At issue was the handling of the Griffin Industries Inc. by the brothers.  Allegations were made that the brothers transferred property that should have been passed on to the sisters after their father’s death in 1995 to the company instead.  This was allegedly done for $1 in order to facilitate a $840 million sale to Darling International Inc. in 2010.

The sisters claimed that it was their parents’ intention that all of their children would inherit the parents’ stock in Griffin Industries Inc.  Their position was that their parents maintained this intent even after many revisions were made to the Wills, including one done after John L. Griffin suffered a stroke. Furthermore, allegations were made that the brothers and sisters were assigned traditional family roles in the family dynamic, whereby the men were responsible for running Griffin Industries Inc. This contributed to allegations that the brothers had attempted to defraud the sisters out of their inheritance.

After the dispute dragged on for many years, Justice Bertelsman ruled in favour of the sisters. Linda Holt, Judith Prewitt, and Cynthia Roeder each received $178.8 million. Elisabeth Osborn was awarded $11.6 million. The reason she was awarded less than the other sisters is that she had settled a related lawsuit earlier.

The Griffin sibling dispute is an example of what may happen if beneficiaries feel their interests in the testator’s estate are in jeopardy. The matter was further complicated by the apparent application of outdated gender roles where the brothers were put in charge of the family business. The power imbalance seems to have resulted in the sisters’ portions of the estate being reduced over time despite their parents’ wishes for all the children to receive their stock in Griffin Industries Inc.

The brothers have indicated that they are planning to appeal the decision. It will be interesting to see what happens next. For more on this dispute click here.