Consumers, retailers and restaurants who have sued Thai Union-owned Chicken of the Sea International (COSI) over price-fixing allegations would not receive "adequate relief" from a $6.5 million (€5.9 million) settlement for damages, according to a US district judge in California.
2004 - 2010. Defendants shared a common canner in American Samoa, Impress, which is allegedly connected to collusive can size reduction.
2004. Groups colluded to increase prices of canned tuna at least twice.
2006. Groups colluded to increase prices of canned tuna at least once. “By 2007, defendants became more practiced and ambitious in their collusive designs," allegedly downsizing their can size while raising prices.
2007: The NFI created the Tuna Council, whose only members were the defendants, allegedly.
2008. Alleged collusion on price increases on canned tuna.
2010: Defendants allegedly colluded and raised net prices on canned tuna. Net prices are the prices disseminated to brokers of shelf stable seafood products, and represent the list price, less promotional allowances offered by defendants to reduce the list price.
November 2011 - June 2013: Senior executives and sales personnel of the StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea allegedly "exchanged emails and had telephone conversations about discounting and promotional practices and terms for the sale of canned tuna to customers." They also allegedly "assured each other that they would not compete regarding the pricing and sale of canned tuna sold to customers."
December 2011 and January 2012: Senior executives and sales personnel of defendants allegedly had telephone conversations "about coordinating and announcing a price increase for a number of products in the second quarter of 2012." Price increases were allegedly "virtually identical" and "other products also increased by identical percentages."
2011 - 2013: StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee allegedly told customers certain factors in the tuna sector made it necessary to increase tuna prices. They allegedly "cited their own predictions about where the tuna market was heading as the basis for a price increase."
2012 - July 2015: Defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly agreed to avoid FAD-free tuna.
July 2015: Published reports revealed US Department of Justice convened a grand jury to investigate potential antitrust violations by companies in the market for the production, pricing and/or sale of packaged seafood, including canned tuna.
On Jan. 17, US District Judge Janis L. Sammartino ruled the settlement did not seem in the plaintiffs' best interest, with $5 million (€4.5 million), or approximately 77 percent of the total settlement amount, going toward attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.
The judge ruled the settlement even seemed to disproportionately benefit the legal counsel representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
As proposed, the settlement would pay only $1.5 million (€1.4 million) to the plaintiffs known as "commercial food preparers" after other costs are paid out such as attorney's fees, investments and tax expenses, the judge wrote.
"The attorneys’ fees alone are $3 million (€2.7 million) or approximately 46 percent of the total settlement," Sammartino ruled.
"Distribution of a disproportionate part of the settlement to counsel is one of the indicators that class counsel may not have negotiated in the best interest of the class."
Sammartino added that a portion of the settlement ruling that class-action plaintiffs could not settle with defendants Bumble Bee and Starkist for a lesser amount was unfair, given claims caused by Bumble Bee and Starkist are "significantly lower than the damages caused by [Chicken of the Sea]."
The proposed settlement allocates $5 million (€4.5 million), or approximately 77 percent of the
total settlement amount, to attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.
In December, a jury in the US District Court in San Francisco found former Bumble Bee CEO Chris Lischewski guilty of participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of canned tuna sold in the United States.
Lischewski faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $10 million (€10.2 million) in fines. The sentencing will be conducted at a later date.