Former American Samoa Tuna Can Plant Owner Named Co-Conspirator In Lawsuit

StarKist, Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea accused by Walmart of conspiring to fix prices

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 25, 2017) – The former owner of the Satala-based can manufacturing plant has been identified as a co-conspirator in the price fixing civil lawsuit against the nation’s three major canned tuna producer, including StarKist Co., according to the latest amended lawsuit by country’s major retailer, Walmart Inc.

Samoa News has reported over the past two years the price fixing civil suit against StarKist, Bumble Bee Food and Chicken of the Sea International. The defendants and their co-conspirators are accused of conspiring to raise, fix, stabilize or maintain prices of and restrict capacity within the market for the sale of Packaged Tuna product, since 2004.

Additionally, the defendants and their co-conspirators are alleged to have directly coordinated, among other things, can and pouch sizes for tuna; pricing of packaged tuna.

As of early this week, there are more than 1,500 plaintiffs — including major companies, such as K-Mart, Walmart and individuals. The lawsuits were consolidated last year and are now heard at the federal court in San Diego under the “package seafood products antitrust litigation” case.  Several plaintiffs — seeking a class action suit — have filed amended complaints, adding new allegations to their original complaints. 

Walmart’s amended complaint filed last week identified a co-conspirator — Impress — former owner of the can manufacturing plant in American Samoa.

(Samoa News notes that the can plant was previously called Impress Samoa, owned by Impress USA Inc. The plant was sold about two years ago to Dongwon Industries, and changed its named to Talofa Systems Inc. StarKist is also owned by Dongwon, a South Korean based company.)

And based on information in Walmart’s amended complaint, the price fixing is also related to the size of cans manufactured in America Samoa.

“Conspirators currently known to Plaintiffs include Impress USA, Inc. and its employees,” Walmart alleges in its amended complaint, which further alleges that Impress’ role in the price fixing is in connection with the collusive can size reduction that occurred in 2007 and 2008.

Walmart claims that between 2004 and 2010, defendants shared a common canner in American Samoa, Impress. Additionally, Bumble Bee, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea each knew at the time that Impress was sharing production and other information about each of them with the others, and “defendants used Impress as a conduit to facilitate the exchange of information regarding the conspiracy.”

Later in the lawsuit document, Walmart reiterated its claim that the “collusive can-size reduction was facilitated by co-conspirator Impress”.

In another amended complaint, in which more than 20 individuals are identified by name as plaintiffs, Impress was also cited. For example, it says that in 2007, StarKist and its can maker, Impress, decided to abruptly change the size of its standard six-ounce tuna can to five ounces, marking a major departure from the gradual changes of the previous decade.

Further, the downsizing necessarily involved a price change, and therefore virtually required cooperation on pricing to be adopted by all three competitors — referring to StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea.

In other complaints, the plaintiffs alleges that the co-packing arrangement between Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea also facilitated defendants’ collusion and enforcement of their cartel.

Samoa News will report in later editions on other details from the latest round of amended complaints as well as any response filed with court by the defendants and its coconspirators.

The Samoa News
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