“Those U.S. consumers who enjoy salmon, and consumers generally, are today better off because of the court’s approval of this settlement,” said Chris Lebsock, co-lead counsel and a partner at Hausfeld.
Michael A. Mora, September 13, 2022
A federal judge in Miami granted final approval of tens of millions of dollars in an antitrust class action settlement, along with an eight-figure attorney fees award.
For plaintiffs counsel, this required overcoming hurdles, such as reviewing more than 62 million pages of documents—released in a foreign language.
Peter Prieto of Podhurst Orseck in Miami and Chris Lebsock of Hausfeld in San Francisco were co-lead counsel for a settlement class of more than 800 direct purchasers of farm-raised Norwegian salmon. They alleged the defendants, multiple Norwegian salmon distributors, used their dominant industry positions to manipulate the market.
“Ultimately, for the consumer, whether they’re buying computer products or they’re purchasing salmon, competition helps,” Prieto said. “Having the ability to bring the class action device is a very effective tool to ensure that markets are competitive and that parties within those markets do not try or attempt to manipulate them.”
Dianne Olivia Fischer, a partner at Sidley Austin in Miami, was among the attorneys representing defendants, including Mowi ASA, Grieg Seafood ASA, SalMar ASA, Leroy Seafood AS, Cermaq Group AS and Cermaq Norway AS, as well as their various subsidiaries. Fischer did not respond to a request seeking comment.
Now, U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, who sits in the Southern District of Florida, approved an $85 million settlement.
From the settlement, plaintiffs counsel will reap attorney fees of 30%, or $25.5 million, and reimbursement of $2.6 million in costs.
62 Million Pages
Initially, attorneys hit the defendants with a flurry of lawsuits in which they alleged the distributors exchanged competitively sensitive information to control the price of farm-raised salmon purchased by American seafood buyers, according to the third consolidated amended class action complaint.
Soon after, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation into the collusive behavior of these seafood powerhouses for alleged violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act. As a result, salmon become the latest food in a long line of protein staples to become the subject of antitrust concerns.
The three years of litigation saw dozens of discovery hearings, and plaintiffs counsel had to review the production of more than 62 million pages of documents in a foreign language, per the motion for attorney fees. Prieto said that required “computer-assisted technology, as well as Norwegian translators” before plaintiff counsel could even review the papers.
Key to reaching the settlement was a mediation in March facilitated by retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Infante over two days in which both sides arrived at the general terms of the global settlement, according to court documents. Two months later, they ironed out the precise language of the agreement.
For instance, the settlement class included all person and entities in the U.S., their territories and the District of Columbia who bought farm-raised Atlantic salmon or products from one or more defendants from April 10, 2013, until May 26, 2022, the date of preliminary approval.
Since preliminary approval, there has been no request for exclusion from the settlement, objections to the settlement nor objections to the motion for attorney fees, according to the order approving the class settlement.
As far as the criminal implications, Prieto said the settlement likely had no impact on the Justice Department investigation, which has so far not resulted in any charges. But Prieto said the settlement avoided further civil litigation, which could have included a trial and a subsequent appeal that would have delayed monetary recovery for the class.
Lebsock, the co-lead counsel, added: “Those U.S. consumers who enjoy salmon, and consumers generally, are today better off because of the court’s approval of this settlement.”