StarKist asks feds to move civil action suit from Calif to Pennsylvania

StarKist Co. has asked the federal court in Oakland, Calif., to move the civil action suit against the cannery to a federal court in western Pennsylvania, but the plaintiff, Patrick Hendricks has opposed such a move, with a hearing set for Jun. 18 for oral arguments in this case.


Hendricks, who resides in northern California, earlier this year sued StarKist for “negligent misrepresentation”, “unjust enrichment”, violating California consumer laws, and “fraud” with allegations that StarKist is under-filling its canned tuna products.


He also sought the court’s certification of a nationwide class action suit comprising purchasers of StarKist’s five-ounce tuna products.


In its motion to transfer the case, StarKist said plaintiff’s claims are all based on tests performed at an unnamed laboratory and under the direction of his attorney, on an unspecified number of five-ounce cans of StarKist’s tuna products.


The defense went on to contend that all their key witnesses — whose testimony will be necessary to resolve plaintiff’s claims of under-filling of tuna products, if they survive past the pleading stage — are located in Pittsburgh (which is where the company is based).


Additionally, all members of StarKist’s executive team work out of Pittsburgh, which is also where all of the company’s scientific and quality assurance teams work.


Further, the defendant’s research and development facilities and personnel, including its sales and marketing team, are all located in Pittsburgh according to the motion. Although defense has one witness currently living in California, that person is relocating soon to Pittsburgh for reasons unrelated to this litigation.


By the plaintiff counsel’s own admission, a consumer such as plaintiff is incapable of conducting the press weight standard, said the defense, who also pointed out that counsel had a difficult time even finding a laboratory that could conduct the press weight test, despite contacting several prominent food testing laboratories.


Thus, in order to determine whether StarKist is in violation of federal laws, as alleged by the plaintiff, expert testimony is necessary, not testimony by plaintiff, argued the defense.


“It would be extremely inconvenient and costly for StarKist and its relevant representatives and witnesses to travel from Pittsburgh to California to defend against this lawsuit,” the motion states.


With respect to plaintiff, any inconvenience that transfer might cause to him personally is not a weighty consideration here, because he is but one member of a nationwide class, said the defense, adding that even though the plaintiff argues that transfer will cause him undue prejudice, “any prejudice to him is minimized by the fact that this is a class action suit.”


In conclusion, StarKist petitioned the court to grant its request, in the interests of party and witness economy, efficiency and convenience.


In his opposition to transfer the case to another federal jurisdiction, Hendricks argued that independent testing by a California laboratory revealed that StarKist sold 5-ounce cans of tuna with 17.3% less tuna than plaintiff and putative class members paid for.


“Because StarKist cheated consumers by providing 17.3% less tuna, Hendricks seeks relief in his home forum under California law on behalf of a subclass of millions of California residents who purchased StarKist Tuna,” the motion states.


Furthermore, StarKist exposed itself to the risk of a suit in Oakland federal court by choosing to advertise, distribute, and sell its tuna products in California.


Plaintiff also argued that StarKist failed to meet its burden under federal law for transferring the case to another jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Oakland federal court is more familiar with the laws of California pertaining to this case.


“While transferring the case to Pennsylvania may reduce the costs of litigation for StarKist, a large corporation, transfer would increase the costs of litigation for plaintiff, an individual. Because transfer would merely shift rather than eliminate costs, this factor does not favor transfer,” the motion pointed out.


Hendricks noted that StarKist has asserted that his “testimony is far less important to this case than the testimony of the StarKist executive team and scientists.”


“In StarKist’s view, the testimony of its employees may be more important, but Hendricks’ testimony regarding the circumstances of his purchase and the representations made by StarKist is of the utmost important to his case. Hendricks is clearly a material witness,” according to the plaintiff’s motion which also urged the court to deny StarKist’s request.

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