Mandatory Settlement Conference Ordered In StarKist Lawsuit

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Class action suit alleging under-filled cans in federal court

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 9, 2014) – A mandatory settlement conference is scheduled for September this year at the federal court in San Francisco, Calif., in the consumer lawsuit brought against Pittsburgh based StarKist Co., regarding the company’s canned tuna products.

New court filings shows the monetary amount sought in the lawsuit is $5 million or more, with other compensation.

The lawsuit was filed early last year by California resident Patrick Hendricks seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief on the grounds that four of StarKist’s canned tuna products are under-filled and, thus, substantially underweight.

Originally filed early last year at the federal court in Oakland, Calif., Hendricks accused StarKist in a nine-count complaint, which included breach of express warranty; breach of Implied warranty of merchantability; breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose; unjust enrichment; negligent misrepresentation; and fraud.

In late April this year, the court declined to dismiss five claims of allegations including fraud as sought by StarKist, which then filed a new motion for dismissal focusing only on the claims that were not dismissed.

The court then ordered a joint "case management statement" by both sides that was filed last month incorporating together all arguments in the case. The statement also proposes dates to file discovery, disclosure of documents and list of expert witnesses and possible date of trial.

According to the statement, plaintiff anticipates one further issue: StarKist Co. is owned by Dongwon Industries Co., Ltd., a South Korean company with its principal place of business in Seoul, South Korea. Moreover, StarKist Tuna is processed and packaged in facilities in Pago Pago, American Samoa and Guayaquil, Ecuador.

"Thus, plaintiff anticipates that issues will arise regarding document production and translation, which could cause the discovery period to run longer than average," it says.

On the issue of monetary relief, plaintiff revealed that the suit seeks damages, restitution, disgorgement, injunctive, and/or monetary relief in excess of $5 million. Plaintiff also seeks all remedies available for breach of express warranty, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud.

While Plaintiff has not yet retained a damages expert, he seeks the full amount of the purchase price of StarKist Tuna and/or the difference in value between StarKist Tuna as warranted and StarKist Tuna as actually sold, the statement says.

StarKist responded saying that it disputes that Hendricks and/or the alleged class is entitled to, or has suffered, any damages. (Hendricks’ motion for this case to be a class action suit, to include other individuals, is pending in court.)

And according to the statement both sides are looking at this case to continue into 2015 when more statements are filed as well as a planned trial date. Additionally, both sides have not discussed any settlement.

Following a hearing late last month the court set specific dates on filing of discovery and disclosure and other matters. The court also ordered a mandatory settlement conference, adding that a trial date will not be set until the issue of "class action certification" is dealt with.

Court documents say that this case for the settlement conference has been transferred from the Oakland federal court to U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley at the San Francisco federal court, where the the settlement conference is set for Sept. 30 this year.

Corley ordered specific documents and proposed settlements to be filed with the court as well as information needed prior to the hearing. She also outlined procedures for both sides to follow during the settlement conference.

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