Bumble Bee, StarKist And Chicken Of The Sea Class Action Price Fixing Litigation

Wolf Haldenstein was appointed lead counsel in the consolidation of a series of antitrust class actions lawsuits that were filed against StarKist Co. Bumble Bee Foods LLC and Tri-Union Seafoods LLC, which produces “Chicken of the Sea,” (the “Defendants”) accusing them of conspiring together in order to fix, raise and maintain the price of tuna. Wolf Haldenstein represents individuals and families who purchased Bumble Bee, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea canned seafood products from retail chains, grocery stores and similar consumer outlets from August 1, 2008 to present. See the Consolidated Class Action Complaint.

The Defendants, the three largest producers of packaged seafood products in the U.S. have a collective market share of more than 70%. According to the complaint consumption of canned tuna has declined over the last few years, but prices have not. In 2005 the average person ate 3.1 pounds of tuna but by 2013 the average dropped to 2.3 pounds while the price of tuna kept increasing, when the opposite should have occurred. When there is a drop in consumer consumption the business practice would be to reduce the price of tuna, not increase it.

The class action is before Judge Janice Lyn Sammartino, United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of California, in a Multi-District litigation titled In re: Packaged Seafood Products Antitrust Litigation, MDL-2670.

The Amended Complaint claims that the structure and characteristics of the packaged-seafood market in the US are conducive to price fixing and that companies had many opportunities to meet and fix prices. All were members of the National Fisheries Institute’s Tuna Council. All three worked together on a joint advertising campaign for 2011-2012. Finally, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea have a “copacking” agreement: In California, Bumble Bee packs tuna for Chicken of the Sea’s West Coast sales; and in Georgia, Chicken of the Sea packs tuna for Bumble Bee’s East Coast sales. The Complaint further alleges that the companies met separately and shared information to coordinate the shrinking of tuna cans and price increases and police each other’s discounting, resulting in illegal price increases paid by consumers at the checkout counter.   The Defendant’s efforts to get the class action complaints dismissed was rejected by Judge Sammartino.  See the Opinion.

The civil class action case is paralleling a US Department of Justice Antitrust Division criminal investigation that has already resulted in guilty pleas.