US Department Of Justice Continues Criminal Probe Into Seafood Industry Collusion

Defendants: the case should be dismissed due, to a lack of standing and claims are barred by relevant statute of limitations

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 14, 2016) – While the nation’s major canned tuna producers — including StarKist Co., owner of StarKist Samoa cannery — have asked a federal judge to dismiss a major civil action lawsuit against them, a federal grand jury is continuing its criminal investigation involving packaged seafood products, according to federal court records.  

The US Justice Department’s probe into possible violation of the federal antitrust law dealing with manufacturers of packaged seafood products and this includes canned tuna products, was confirmed by USDOJ in a motion filed early this year at the federal court in San Diego, which was the hearing more than 70 separate civil suits filed against the nation’s major canned tuna producers for conspiring “to fix, raise, maintain, and/or stabilize prices for packaged seafood products” within the United States, its territories and the District of Columbia.  

The civil right suits have since been consolidated into one and USDOJ filed a motion to intervene in the civil cases, allowing the federal government to seek a limited and temporary stay of discovery in the civil cases.   Additionally, a federal grand jury is “investigating potential violations” of the federal Sherman Antitrust Act in the packaged seafood industry. Further, the allegations in the consolidated civil cases also involve violations of the Sherman Act in the packaged seafood industry.  

The federal court granted USDOJ motion to interview, and recent court filings shows that the criminal investigation by the grand jury, sitting at the federal court in San Francisco, is still ongoing.  

For the civil cases, its filed against StarKist and its owner Dongwon Enterprise; Bumble Bee Foods, Thai Union Group and its US operator Chicken of the Sea International, and Del Monte Foods.  

Last week the defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss the consolidated civil suit and a hearing on the motion before US District Court Judge Janis L. Sammartino at the federal court in San Diego is scheduled for Nov. 16th.   “Without any facts to support their sweeping allegations”, the plaintiffs “bring claims for damages from purchases of allegedly price-fixed ‘packaged seafood products’— a category that, according to Plaintiffs, includes tuna, clams, crab, mackerel, oysters, salmon, sardines, and shrimp, among other things,” according to the dismissal motion, which includes a total of 169 pages of documents.  

“Despite casting this wide net, Plaintiffs’ allegations focus exclusively on the tuna market: there is not a single allegation about collusive conduct directed towards the separate markets for clams, crab, mackerel, oysters, salmon, sardines, shrimp, or any other conceivable type of seafood,” the motion says.  

The defendants argued that plaintiffs failed to allege any collusion — let alone injury — in the seafood markets and, for some, failed to allege any purchases at all in the different seafood markets and states.  

According to the defendants the case should be dismissed due, to among other things, lack of standing, and claims are barred by relevant statute of limitations.

The Samoa News
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