Kramer v. William F. Murphy Self-Declaration of TrustAnnotate this Case
Plaintiff-Appellant Randy Kramer initiated a breach of contract action against Mike D. Murphy and the William F. Murphy Self-Declaration of Trust (Trust). Tri-State Ethanol, LLC owned an ethanol plant in Rosholt, South Dakota. Kramer was one of the members and managers of Tri-State Ethanol. Kramer was also a member of White Rock Pipeline, LLC, which owned a pipeline that supplied natural gas to Tri-State Ethanol. In order to comply with various federal regulations, Tri-State Ethanol determined it was necessary to purchase the membership interests of Kramer, Murphy, Woods, and the Trust. To accomplish this, Tri-State Ethanol entered into a loan agreement (Loan Agreement) with Murphy and the Trust. Tri-State Ethanol was unable to meet its financial obligations and eventually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. During the course of the bankruptcy proceedings, Murphy and the Trust reached a settlement agreement regarding payment of the Loan Agreement and the Disbursement Agreement. Murphy and the Trust, through its trustee, represented to the bankruptcy court that they would use the settlement proceeds to pay Kramer the amounts owed under the Disbursement Agreement. The bankruptcy court approved the settlement agreement. After the settlement proceeds from Tri-State Ethanol’s bankruptcy estate were distributed, Murphy and the Trust refused to pay Kramer the full amount listed in the Disbursement Agreement. Kramer then filed a complaint against Murphy and the Trust for breach of the Disbursement Agreement. Murphy filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of improper venue. He claimed that the forum-selection clauses contained in the Loan Agreement, the Balloon Note, and the Promissory Note controlled for any suit brought on the Disbursement Agreement. The circuit court agreed and dismissed the case. It found that while the Disbursement Agreement itself had no forum-selection clause, the other three agreements contained forum-selection clauses providing that the Fourteenth Judicial District in Rock Island County, Illinois was the proper forum. The circuit court reasoned that the agreements must be considered as a whole. After examining each of documents collectively as one contract, the Supreme Court held that the trial court did not err in finding that the parties intended the venue for any suit on the Disbursement Agreement to be the Fourteenth (14th) Judicial District in Rock Island County, Illinois. The circuit court’s dismissal of this case was affirmed.