(Feb. 14) ARLINGTON, Texas — Fresh America Corp. Perishable Agricultural Commodity Act trust creditors must file their claims by March 24 if the presiding judge in the case agrees to a timeline proposed by attorneys for the company and creditors.

The deadline is included in a stipulated order filed in a U.S. District Court in Dallas on Feb. 11. Fresh America attorney Louis Diess, a partner at McCarron & Diess, Washington, D.C., said the order is pending approval by a judge but that he and attorneys representing creditors agreed on the deadline.

The order sets a series of deadlines for objections to any PACA claims filed, the responses to those objections and the filing of a PACA trust chart, which will list all creditors and what they are owed.

Diess said payments for undisputed claims in the matter could be sent as early as May 12.

“I’m hoping it will be a substantial distribution,” Diess said.

Diess is overseeing the claims process for Fresh America, which exists solely to claim accounts receivables and determine who is owed money in the wake of the liquidation. DiMare Fresh Inc., a newly formed division of DiMare Homestead Inc., Homestead, Fla., in January purchased the company’s assets, equipment and inventory and will take over Fresh America locations.

DiMare did not assume responsibility of any Fresh America’s debts or liabilities. The Buffalo Grove, Ill., branch of Produce Alliance LLC, Columbia, S.C., and Ruby Robinson Co. Inc., Buffalo Grove, were the first creditors to file court documents in the case. Attorneys representing clients in the case say several hundred plaintiffs could be listed by the time the March 24 deadline arrives.

Diess said PACA claims could reach $15 million but that accounts receivables will likely exceed that amount. By mid-February, creditors representing more than $2.5 million had joined the lawsuit, according to court documents.Attorneys working to settle PACA trust claims say they’re optimistic about resolving the claims.

“Normally, when you shut down a company, its accounts receivables are 6 to 8 months old,” said Mike Keaton, a partner with Keaton & Associates, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Quinn Chandler, who filed the original court documents on behalf of Produce Alliance and Ruby Robinson Co., said Fresh America accounts were active at the time the company began the liquidation process.

“It looks like a very high percentage of the $15 million and some odd receivables they had, none are more than 60 days old, and that makes receivables a lot more collectable,” said Chandler, of Chandler & Chandler PC, Dallas.

A diminished Fresh America staff continues to collect. Mark Prowell, named the chief executive officer in September, left the company the week of Feb. 10, Diess said.

If claims reach $15 million, it would be one of the largest PACA settlements in history and by far the largest in this millennium. Chicago foodservice distributor Zema Foods LLC closed in 2000 with final claims of about $9 million, and claims against Demma Fruit Co. Ltd., Omaha, Neb., are about $4.6 million, said Mark Amendola, a PACA attorney with Martyn and Associates, Cleveland.