TRAVERSE CITY -- A local cherry processor that shut its doors and laid off dozens of employees is being sued in a dispute over stored cherries at the operation.

An Indiana-based food processor on Tuesday filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Cherry Blossom LLC, of Williamsburg. Sensient Flavors LLC alleges it owns some of the cherries held by the local fruit processor. Cherry Blossom is in financial distress and recently laid off 45 workers, bringing to a halt cherry processing and raising concerns among growers on the east side of Traverse City over where they'll take their harvested fruit.

Sensient's suit filed in 13th Circuit Court alleges it was denied access on Monday to the Whitewater Township processing plant to collect the fruit, despite warnings it received from Cherry Blossom of the possible shut-off of electricity to the plant. The fruit is already showing signs of damage, including cracking and shriveling, according to the suit.

Traverse City attorney Peter Worden filed the suit on behalf of Sensient. He declined comment on Wednesday, saying the suit "speaks for itself."

Cherry Blossom finishes sweet cherries to be used in ice cream, candy and yogurt.

Sensient wants to take the cherries to another processor because Cherry Blossom lacks the ability to ensure proper storage, preservation and processing of the fruit, the suit alleges.

Christopher Hubbell, president and owner of Cherry Blossom, said he didn't know about the suit and referred questions to his attorney, Michael J. Corcoran, of Traverse City.

"We've got a dispute over whether or not they own some of the cherries in the pits at Cherry Blossom," Corcoran said.

Another lien-holder also has a claim to the fruit, he said.

Sensient's move to terminate its contract with Cherry Blossom is a "major contributing factor in where Cherry Blossom sits today," Corcoran said. The cherry processor is working with unnamed third parties to arrange a re-opening through a sale or cooperative agreement.

"I'm hopeful once the bigger deal comes together, we'll be able to work things out with Sensient and resolve any issue they may have," Corcoran said.

Meanwhile, Cherry Blossom wants the return of cherry processing formulas purchased from Sensient, and not allow them to be sold or used by other companies. Cherry Blossom will take legal action if necessary to protect its rights to the formulas, Corcoran said.

Related Story: Company lays off 45, halts processing

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