StarKist Does Not Admit Fault In Tuna Can Settlement

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Class action suit settled for $12 million

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 21, 2015) – By reaching the settlement agreement as the result of a lawsuit filed in federal court, StarKist Co., says the company will focus attention on its core mission of "providing healthy and delicious seafood" to customers.

As reported yesterday by Samoa News, the Pittsburgh-based StarKist Co., whose local operation is StarKist Samoa cannery, will pay $12 million to settle a lawsuit filed against the canned tuna company, according to a motion for preliminary approval of a class action settlement agreement filed with the federal court in San Francisco, California. (See yesterday’s edition for details)

The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by California resident Patrick Hendricks, who alleged that StarKist had cheated customers by shorting 5 oz. cans of tuna, under-filling them in violation of federal law. That allegation was based on press weight tests conducted in early 2013 by the U.S. Department of Commerce at the request of the plaintiff’s attorney, according to court documents.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, StarKist corporate spokesperson Michelle Faist pointed to settlement documents, which state that StarKist denies the allegations made by the Plaintiff, and denies any liability with respect to all claims alleged in the lawsuit.

"This settlement allows StarKist to stay focused on our core mission of providing healthy and delicious seafood to our consumers," said Faist via email yesterday. She also referred Samoa News to court documents which outline the company’s responses to the lawsuit and other related matters. (Samoa News has covered these issues since the lawsuit was filed.)

According to the settlement documents, "StarKist denies the material allegations made in the Action (or lawsuit), and denies any and all liability with respect to all facts and claims alleged therein, and further denies that any of the Settlement Class Members or anyone has suffered any harm or damage or is entitled to any monetary or relief whatsoever in connection with the Action."

"StarKist, while continuing to deny all allegations of wrongdoing and disclaiming all liability with respect to all claims, considers it desirable to resolve the Action on the terms stated herein in order to avoid further expense, inconvenience and burden and, therefore, has determined that this Settlement on the terms set forth herein is in StarKist’s best interests," it says.

Furthermore, the Settlement Agreement reflects a compromise between the parties "and shall in no event be construed as or be deemed an admission or concession by any party of the truth of any allegation or the validity of any purported claim or defense asserted in any of the pleadings in the Action, or of any fault on the part of StarKist, and all such allegations expressly are denied."

It also says that attorney for the plaintiff conducted an examination and investigation of the facts and law relating to the matters in this Action, including, but not limited to, engaging in discovery, review and analysis of StarKist’s documents and data, and testing of the StarKist Products.

The attorney also evaluated the merits of the Parties’ contentions and evaluated this Settlement, as it affects all parties, including Settlement Class Members. After taking into account the foregoing, along with the risks and costs of further litigation, represent that they are satisfied that the terms and conditions of this Settlement are fair, reasonable, and adequate, and that this Settlement is in the best interest of the Settlement Class Members.

INVESTIGATION OF PRESS WEIGHT MACHINES

As part of its investigation, the plaintiff’s legal team also interviewed in March this year, StarKist Samoa former general manager Brett Butler. The investigation also discovered a StarKist internal memo dealing with its press machine at the StarKist Samoa plant.

According to the motion for approval of the settlement, StarKist’s internal documents show that its testing was done on faulty equipment which was overstating the press weight results. This was evidenced by, for example, a July 3, 2012 email from StarKist official Harvey A. Person to Butler and others which states: "Last week I reviewed the operation of the Tuna Standard press machine. There are a number of issues that would indicate that the machine is under pressing the canned product." (Copies of the email were submitted as exhibits.)

The motion further says that StarKist contends that these were routine maintenance issues that were quickly identified and repaired. "But the evidence shows otherwise," it says. For example, as of November 14, 2012, four months after Pearson’s July 3, 2012 email, "StarKist’s internal documents confirm that the press machine in [American] Samoa still did not have a functioning pump."

Additionally, StarKist’s plant in Guayaquil, Ecuador "did not even have a functioning press machine". Furthermore, StarKist’s only evidence concerning repairs and maintenance to the press machine in American Samoa was the Pearson Declaration which was directly contradicted on every key point by Mr. Pearson’s deposition testimony, which revealed that he was not responsible for the maintenance of the press machine in Samoa, and he knew nothing about its maintenance.

"...there were so many problems with StarKist’s press weight tests, both before and after 2011, that StarKist’s own personnel knew they were ‘not accurate," the motion states.

Several exhibits and supporting documents were submitted along with the motion and the proposed settlement agreement.

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