By Carolina Bolado
Law360 (June 3, 2019, 5:57 PM EDT) — A Florida federal judge on Monday approved a request by direct purchasers of farm-raised salmon to appoint Hausfeld LLP and Podhurst Orseck PA as lead counsel to litigate their consolidated class antitrust suit against various North Atlantic salmon farms accused of illegal price fixing.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga approved the plaintiffs’ request after finding that the two firms, as well as others proposed as liaison counsel and as members of the plaintiffs’ executive committee, have the necessary experience in handling complex class litigation.
Hausfeld, a 96-attorney firm, “has the resources to pursue this litigation all the way to trial, if necessary,” the plaintiffs said, and is the only firm among plaintiffs’ counsel that has offices in Europe, where many of the defendants are based.
Podhurst Orseck is a boutique litigation firm of 14 attorneys in Miami that also is capable of handling high-stakes class litigation, according to the plaintiffs.
They also asked the court to appoint Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Gilbert as the plaintiffs’ liaison counsel and Wolmuth Maher & Deutsch LLP, Freed Kanner London & Millen LLC, Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios LLP and Steyer Lowenthal Boodrookas Alvarez & Smith LLP as members of the plaintiffs’ executive committee.
The lawsuits stem from investigations and raids in Europe of Norwegian-owned companies farming Atlantic salmon over concerns about potential cartel activity. In February, Europe’s competition watchdog said that it had raided several companies as part of an investigation into suspected violations of rules prohibiting cartels and other restrictive business practices.
By April 23, the first proposed class action against salmon farms was filed by Ohio-based distributor Euclid Fish Co. in the Southern District of Florida. Other similar suits soon followed, which were consolidated last month into one case by Judge Altonaga.
The suits claim the price-fixing scheme has been going on since at least mid-2015.
The direct purchasers say the collusion works in the U.S. because the fish farming companies — Mowi ASA, Grieg Seafood ASA, Lerøy Seafood Group ASA, SalMar ASA, Scottish Sea Farms Ltd., Bremnes Seashore AS and Ocean Quality AS — have a “captive market.”
“Farmed Atlantic salmon sold in the United States is sold under long-term contracts that commit the buyer to specified volumes of fish,” Florida-based seafood importer Beacon Fisheries Inc. said in its suit. “Buyers are not able to negotiate price; rather, they are forced to pay the commodity price that fluctuates over time.”
“The leadership team looks forward to working together to hold the defendants accountable for their violation of the federal antitrust laws,” said Robert Gilbert of Kopelowitz Ostrow.
Attorneys and representatives for the defendants could not be reached for comment Monday.
The plaintiffs are represented by Peter Prieto, John Gravante III, Matthew P. Weinshall and Alissa Del Riego of Podhurst Orseck PA, Michael P. Lehmann, Christopher L. Lebsock and Reena A. Gambhir of Hausfeld LLP, Robert C. Gilbert and Daniel E. Tropin of Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Gilbert, Kimberly A. Justice, Steven A. Kanner, Douglas A. Millen and Brian M. Hogan of Freed Kanner London & Millen LLC, Allan Steyer, Jill M. Manning and D. Scott Macrae of Steyer Lowenthal Boodrookas Alvarez & Smith LLP, Gregory P. Hansel, Randall B. Weill and Michael S. Smith of Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios LLP and Ronald J. Aranoff, Ryan J. Keenan and Scott C. Ferrier of Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch LLP.
Lerøy Seafood Group is represented by Christine L. Welstead and John Carl Seipp Jr. of Bowman & Brooke LLP.
Counsel information for the other defendants was unavailable.
The case is In re: Farm-Raised Salmon and Salmon Products Antitrust Litigation, case number 1:19- cv-21551, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
–Additional reporting by Matthew Perlman and Mike LaSusa. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.