A U.S. District judge issued a final ruling on July 3 in favor of Beaumont, Texas-based wholesaler Coburn Supply in its lawsuit against Kohler Co., the Wisconsin-based manufacturer of plumbing fixtures and supplies.

In addition to ordering that Kohler pay the $1.8 million in damages awarded by the jury, Judge Howell Cobb awarded to Coburn prejudgment interest of $419,941.72 plus $360,773.75 in attorney fees and $34,170.71 for court costs.

Coburn Supply charged in the lawsuit that Kohler terminated its 60-year relationship without giving the wholesaler reasonable notice. After Kohler ended the relationship, Coburn was left with signs, displays, inventory and other materials that it could not use or sell profitably and suffered a loss of profits in having to make a transition to another major manufacturer in such a short time frame, the wholesaler said in court documents. Coburn also said that Kohler had encouraged the wholesaler to increase its promotion of Kohler products and had reconfirmed its distributorship in writing in May 1999, four months prior to terminating the relationship.

Kohler and Coburn did not have a written contract and either party could terminate the relationship at any time for any reason, Kohler said in court documents. Also, Kohler had discovered in 1997 that its market share in Coburn's territory was declining, the manufacturer said.

An eight-member jury found that Kohler Co. had breached its contractual obligations to Coburn in the manner in which it terminated the distributorship agreement and that Kohler knowingly made untrue statements to the wholesaler in their course of their business dealings, causing damages to Coburn from its reliance on those statements.

In the final judgment, the judge said that post-judgment interest is payable on the aggregate award of $2,616,039.18 at 2.33% interest, computed daily and compounded annually, from May 15, 2002 until the date the judgment is paid. In addition, the judge wrote, in the event that Kohler unsuccessfully appeals this judgment, Coburn is entitled to additional attorneys' fees of $35,000.

Kohler Co. stated its intention to "vigorously appeal" the decision. "Kohler Co. strongly believes the decision was wrong and will be reversed on appeal," said Ron Pace, president of the manufacturer's North American plumbing business.