Chris Lischewski back on the hook in price-fixing civil suit
Former Bumble Bee Foods CEO Chris Lischewski has been added back into a civil lawsuit pursuing damages related to the price-fixing conspiracy that involved the so-called “big three” U.S. canned tuna companies.
In an 8 August decision, U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of California Dana Sabrow reversed his previous decision made 28 March, 2022, to remove Lischewski as a defendant in the suit, which was filed in 2018 by Associated Wholesale Grocers. The suit alleges Bumble Bee, Starkist, and Chicken of the Sea and their parent companies colluded to exchange pricing information, coordinate price announcements, reduce the quality of their products and restrain their product output between 2004 and 2015.
Associated Wholesale Grocers, a Kansas City, Kansas-based wholesale distributor, had sued in its home state, but the court ruled Lischewski “lacks the minimum contacts with [Kansas] that are a prerequisite to the exercise of jurisdiction over him.”
In his ruling, Sabrow said the plaintiffs in the case showed adequate evidence Lischewski was part of the conspiracy, which previously resulted in criminal fines against Bumble Bee and Starkist and in Lischewski’s conviction on a single charge of engaging in a conspiracy to fix the prices of canned tuna in the United States from 2011 to 2013.
“The court found plaintiff failed to show the conspiracy was directed toward Kansas or that substantial steps in furtherance of the conspiracy were taken in Kansas. On reconsideration, that finding was in error,” Sabrow wrote. “This court’s alternative finding that Lischewski was not subject to personal jurisdiction in Kansas because he was acting ‘as an officer of Bumble Bee’ is also erroneous.”
Sabrow wrote the court’s previous decision was a ”clear error in its analysis.”
“In this case, there is no dispute about the existence of a conspiracy, no dispute about Lischewski’s participation in the conspiracy, and no dispute that Defendants sold millions of dollars in tuna in Kansas,” Sabrow wrote in his decision. “On these facts, Lischewski is subject to personal jurisdiction in Kansas under the conspiracy theory of jurisdiction.”
The Associated Wholesale case is still pending, and several other civil cases related to the price-fixing conspiracy are also remain to be decided. Several others have been settled out of court, including Lischewski’s settlement of a suit brought by the U.S. state of Washington.
Earlier this year, former Bumble Bee Foods owner Lion Capital and its affiliate, Big Catch Cayman, were reinstated as defendants in a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of U.S. companies that purchased canned tuna during the time period when price-fixing was alleged to have occurred.
Photo courtesy of Bumble Bee Foods