StarKist Loses Class Action Appeal In Antitrust Case

A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Friday that canned tuna multinational StarKist must face class action antitrust litigation over its alleged scheme to inflate the price of canned tuna by colluding with its largest rivals, Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea International, reported Bloomberg.

A divided US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a decision certifying the case as a class action on behalf of consumers, restaurants that bought tuna from wholesalers, and large retailers that made their purchases directly from StarKist and the other suppliers.

StarKist faced a criminal fine of up to $100 million, the statutory maximum, for its participation in a conspiracy to fix the prices of canned tuna fish from as early as November 2011 through at least as late as December 2013.  As part of today’s sentencing hearing, US District Judge Edward M. Chen found that StarKist had not proven that its financial circumstances justified a lower criminal fine. 

The Antitrust Division opposed StarKist’s request for a fine reduction, arguing that StarKist had sufficient financial resources to pay a $100 million criminal fine.  In addition to the criminal fine and term of probation, StarKist has also agreed to cooperate in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation.

Starkist’s is the latest instance of antitrust violations in the canned fish industry in recent years involving the largest firms, including Bumble Bee’s price-fixing scheme in 2016 and Chicken of the Sea’s run-in with retail giant Walmart in 2018.

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