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November 21, 2023

Tree House Brewing sued by minority shareholder over profits

Photo | Courtesy of Tree House Brewing Co. Tree House Brewing Company's 100-acre farm in Woodstock, Conn.

Two founders of Charlton-based Tree House Brewing are the target of a lawsuit filed by Eric Granger, a minority shareholder in the company, claiming that the duo worked to prevent him from benefiting from the brewery’s national success.

The lawsuit, filed in Hampden County Superior Court on Wednesday, alleges Nathan Lanier and Damien Goudreau took a number of steps to box out Granger from financially benefiting from the company’s rapid growth and expansion. 

The suit alleges in 2015, Goudreau presented Granger with a signature page to approve the merger of Tree House LLC into a new corporation, with Granger signing the agreement without being presented the chance to read the whole document. 

This new agreement allowed Granger’s interest in the company to be converted to non-voting stock, the lawsuit says, allowing Lanier and Goudreau to effectively take complete control of the company, including refusing to issue any dividends to investors despite large profits.

The lawsuit claims Tree House forged documents related to a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) filing in order to gain approvals for new locations, resulting in Granger filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission in June. The suit claims the ABCC later issued Tree House a written warning for their mishandling of the documents.

Granger alleges Lanier and Goudreau used holding companies to clandestinely purchase real estate before leasing it back to Tree House, devaluing the value of the company for other shareholders in the process.

WBJ previously reported in February 2022 that Lanier and Goudreau through a separate corporation bought a 50-acre parcel next to Tree House’s Charlton headquarters for $2 million. The practice of company executives personally buying property with their own money and leasing it back to their companies is not uncommon.

Additionally, Granger alleges the duo used the proceeds from these transactions to make a number of high-priced purchases, including luxury cars.

“Despite Tree House’s impressive and sustained financial performance, Lanier and Goudreau continue to deprive Granger and, in the past, former minority shareholders, from enjoying any real financial benefit from their ownership stake, including historical refusal to issue dividends to shareholders,” the lawsuit states. 

The suit points to information derived from a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute to help drive home how much revenue the company is bringing in. The study, which Tree House posted about on their Instagram profile in mid-November, showed the company has an annual economic impact of $143 million across its four Massachusetts locations.

Tree House hosts more than 1 million visitors annually to its five locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Lanier and Goudreau each own 49% of Tree House Brewing, while Granger owns 2%. The lawsuit lists people who have previously had minority ownership stakes in the company, including Dean Rohan, Jonathan Weisbach, Denise Koran-Klisiewicz and Donald Klisiewicz.

Tree House did not immediately return a request for comment from WBJ regarding the lawsuit. 

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