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Tuna giants move to dismiss antitrust lawsuits from Walmart, Kroger

Tuna firms say retailers, including Wegmans, Publix and Winn-Dixie 'make no plausible claim.'

The biggest US tuna firms filed a joint motion Friday to dismiss the antitrust lawsuits alleging the tuna companies conspired to fix the prices of packaged tuna.

Defendants StarKist Co., Dongwon Industries Co., Ltd., Bumble Bee Foods, LLC, Tri-Union Seafoods, LLC, Thai Union Group PCL, and Del Monte Corporation filed the motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuits filed by grocery stores, grocery wholesalers, food distribution companies and other direct purchasers as well as individuals and commercial food preparers who indirectly purchased packaged tuna products from them.

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The lawsuits the groups are seeking to have dismissed were filed by Affiliated Foods, Kroger, Meijer, Publix, Super Store Industries, SuperValu, W. Lee Flower, Wal-Mart, Wegmans and Winn-Dixie.

The amended complaint in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit alleges the biggest US tuna producers conspired to fix canned tuna prices, which violates the Sherman Act as well as various state consumer protection laws.

“Plaintiffs have failed to allege any factual allegations that support a packaged tuna conspiracy after 2013 … improperly claim an entitlement to unbounded discovery concerning non-tuna products despite making no allegations regarding non-tuna products; and … make no plausible claim for injunctive relief,” said defendants, according to court documents.

Post-2013 allegations

The lawsuit said nearly all plaintiffs allege the defendants conspired until July 2015 with Winn-Dixie alleging the "conspiracy continues to this day ... Winn-Dixie offers no factual allegations plausibly suggesting anticompetitive conduct after 2013." 

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The defendants ask the court to dismiss all post-2013 claims because plaintiffs lack "any direct evidence of unlawful pricing, promotion, or packaging behavior."

"Plaintiffs’ passing references to a handful of 2014 meetings are entirely unadorned," said the defendants in court documents.

Non-tuna claims

Some plaintiff lawsuits allege the tuna firms conspired on other packaged seafood products—including salmon, shrimp, crab, clams, oysters, sardines and mackerel. These plaintiffs allegedly seek "unbound discovery" with regards to these non-tuna items.

The defendants ask the court to dismiss these claims because "plaintiffs’ pleas for unbounded discovery into unalleged and previously dismissed non-tuna claims are therefore immaterial and impertinent to this litigation."

Injunctive relief

Lastly, the defendants asked the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim for injunctive relief under the Sherman Act.

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The tuna firms said "speculation that a 'conspiracy ‘may’ be ongoing and that defendants ‘could’ continue or resume selling [pre-packaged seafood products] at higher prices are insufficient.'"

"Despite the Court’s clear holding, plaintiffs offer no allegations plausibly suggesting the existence of a continuing conspiracy or 'a significant threat of injury from an impending violation,'" they added.

StarKist, Dongwon and Del Monte filed a separate motion asking the court to dismiss pre-2011 allegations from all plaintiffs’ complaints.

Follow the developments in this case and catch up on what you missed here.

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