A vice president and board member at In-N-Out Burgers Inc. has filed suit against the hamburger chain, claiming that its top management conspired to oust him as part of a broader plan to take control of the company from co-founder Esther Snyder.

The suit filed by executive Richard Boyd claimed he is co-trustee of two trusts holding the majority of the company's shares, which will shift over the next 12 years to Snyder's sole heir, Lynsi Martinez, and give her control of the company. Boyd claimed that Martinez, the 23-year-old granddaughter of Snyder, is trying to speed the succession.

The suit was dismissed at the request of Boyd on Dec. 9, two days after being filed in L.A. Superior Court. His attorney, Philip Heller, a partner at Fagelbaum & Heller LLP, said in a statement that settlement talks were ongoing.

But Heller left open the possibility that the suit might be re-filed at a later date. He declined further comment.

Court papers reveal an internal struggle within In-N-Out Burgers, a 57-year-old private company known for its simple menu and cult following. Inside the Irvine-based company, In-N-Out has been managed in recent years by a group of long-time senior executives and Esther Snyder, now 86.

In a statement on behalf of In-N-Out and its senior executives who had been defendants in the suit, the company's general counsel, Arnold Wensinger, said: "All parties believe that inaccurate statements and accusations have been made and are regrettable. We are pleased that the lawsuit was dismissed." By "all parties," Wensinger referred to the defendants.

Founded in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder, In-N-Out opened its first restaurant in Baldwin Park, which is home to its museum, university and some executive offices. Since then, In-N-Out has steadily added restaurants and now has 202, according to its Web site. Despite the growth, it has retained its original menu of pure-beef burgers, fresh-cut fries and shakes made from real ice cream.

"They haven't changed their menu, they haven't tried to expand into new or different areas," said Art Manask, president and chief executive of Arthur M. Manask & Associates, a restaurant consulting firm in Burbank. "They just have done what they do really, really well."

In 1976, Harry Snyder died of cancer. Management fell to the couple's younger son, then-24-year-old Richard Snyder, who expanded In-N-Out to 93 stores. He was killed in a plane crash near Orange County's John Wayne Airport in 1993.


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