Lawsuits against tuna, chicken producers for price-fixing conspiracies that cost Washingtonians millions
SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that his office is mailing checks to hundreds of thousands of Washington households as a result of his successful antitrust lawsuits against large chicken and tuna corporations that engaged in price-fixing.
Ferguson’s office is providing $40.6 million in financial restitution to every household whose income is at or below 175% of the federal poverty level. Approximately 402,200 Washington households will receive checks. More than 1.2 million Washingtonians, or approximately 15% of the state population, reside in households receiving checks.
- Single-person households will receive a $50 check.
- Multi-person households will receive a $120 check.
The first round of checks were mailed on Tuesday, Dec. 5. All checks will be sent before December 31. Washingtonians who do not receive a check by the end of the year but think they qualify should visit refundcheck.atg.wa.gov. They will have six months to complete a short claims form and get their share of the funds.
“When powerful interests break the law and harm Washingtonians, my office holds them accountable, and prioritizes getting money back to those who were most impacted,” Ferguson said. “Washington families were cheated by corporate price-fixing conspiracies they knew nothing about – and now those who felt this gouging most severely are receiving checks from my office. The holiday season puts a financial strain on families, and we hope Washingtonians are helped by these checks.”
Restitution payments are targeted to help Washingtonians least able to afford the harm caused by the price-fixing schemes.
Refunds will go to every Washingtonian whose household income is 175% of the federal poverty level and below. For example, this includes:
- A family of five with a household income less than $61,495;
- A single parent raising three kids on an income of $52,500, or less;
- A single parent with two children making less than $43,505 per year;
- A single parent of one, or a retired couple living on two fixed incomes, that total less than $34,510; or
- A retired individual who lives alone on a fixed income less than $25,515 per year.
Checks will arrive in envelopes like the sample provided below to let Washingtonians know what the official mailer from the Attorney General’s Office will look like:
Approximately 134,100 single-person households will receive $50 checks. Approximately 268,100 households with two or more residents will receive a $120 payment. The direct checks total $38.9 million.
The claims administrator will hold the remaining $1.7 million in reserve for households that qualify, but do not receive a check in the initial batch of payments. Individuals who did not receive a check can use a claims form through June 5, 2024 to see if they qualify for payment. The claims form is available in 18 different languages.
If there are questions about eligibility or the claims process, individuals can call (866) 601-1516 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The broiler chicken lawsuits
The Attorney General’s Office recovered $35.5 million as a result of resolutions with 15 of 19 broiler chicken producers named in a 2021 price-fixing lawsuit. The 19 broiler chicken producers named in Ferguson’s lawsuit account for approximately 95 percent of the “broiler” chickens sold in the United States — a term for virtually all chicken produced for consumption. Broiler chickens are used for everything from chicken breasts consumers purchase at the grocery store, to chicken nuggets and chicken sandwiches individuals buy at fast food restaurants.
The Attorney General’s Office asserts all 19 chicken producers drove up the price of chicken since at least 2008, causing consumers to overpay by millions of dollars. The lawsuit asserts a widespread illegal conspiracy to inflate and manipulate prices, rig contract bids, illegally exchange information and coordinate industry supply reductions to maximize profits. Ferguson asserts their conduct violated Washington state antitrust laws.
The Attorney General’s Office investigation found a coordinated, industry-wide effort to restrain production through the exchange of competitively sensitive information, signals during investor calls and direct coordination between players in the industry.
Washington was the first state to hold chicken production companies accountable for their roles in the price-fixing conspiracy. Every time a new resolution was announced, the Attorney General’s Office indicated it planned to use the recoveries to assist Washingtonians harmed by the price-fixing conspiracy.
A trial against the three remaining co-conspirators is scheduled for October 2024. They are:
- Foster Farms, LLC;
- Wayne-Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Wayne Farms and Sanderson Farms merged after the lawsuit was filed); and
- House of Raeford Farms, Inc.
Assistant Attorneys General Travis Kennedy, Christina Black, Brooke Howlett Lovrovich, Holly Williams, Tyler Arnold, Susana Croke, Rose Duffy and Lucy Wolf; paralegals Tracy Jacoby, Kimberly Hitchcock, Michelle Oliver and Kate Iiams; and legal assistants Grace Monastrial, Keriann Snider and Debbie Chase from the Attorney General’s Antitrust Division are handling the case for Washington.
The tuna lawsuits
Funds also come from more than $5.1 million from cases against major tuna companies. Those include a $4.1 million resolution with StarKist, a $500,000 resolution with Chicken of the Sea, a $100,000 resolution with former Bumble Bee Tuna CEO Christopher Lischewski, and $450,000 in sanctions against StarKist’s parent company, Dongwon.
Washington was the first state to sue tuna companies and the first to reach a resolution with Lischewski.
Executives at the three companies called each other, texted, used private emails and in some instances had face-to-face meetings at pre-arranged locations such as hotels and restaurants to avoid detection so they could exchange internal company policies and data.
Lischewski complained to other tuna executives before they began the price-fixing scheme that canned tuna was “too cheap” and he wanted the price artificially increased on consumers. Two of Lischewski’s subordinates testified that he gave “a very clear, direct” order to fix canned tuna prices.
Assistant Attorneys General Holly Williams and Lumi Nodit, paralegal Michelle Oliver and legal assistant Debbie Chase handled this case for Washington.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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