(Aug. 17) C.M. Holtzinger Fruit Co. LLC, Yakima, Wash., is stepping in to help Inland-Joseph Fruit Co. while the Wapato, Wash., packer deals with a civil lawsuit.

New York-based Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., which owns and operates orchards in Washington, filed a lawsuit Aug. 8 seeking $2.3 million in damages in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington against Inland-Joseph, its principal owners — including president Susan Putman — and Raleigh, N.C.-based sales agent L&M Cos. Inc.

MetLife alleges in court documents that it delivered 25,978 apple bins to Inland Joseph in 2006. The complaint alleges that Inland Joseph received $1.6 million in proceeds for those apples but has distributed only $80,283 to MetLife. MetLife, which also claims some apples have not been sold, says in court documents that L&M owes the company $700,000.

Andy Tudor, sales manager in L&M’s Selah, Wash., office, was traveling Aug. 16 and could not be reached for comment. L&M marketing director Lee Anne Oxford also was unavailable, and Putman did not return calls.

Inland Joseph’s Web site says the company employs 500 workers and packs 5 million boxes of apples, pears, cherries and stone fruit per year.

President David Lawrence said Holtzinger, which did not have a prior working relationship with Inland Joseph, is acting as the packer’s sales agent and is providing an undisclosed amount of financing as well as staffing, trucks and other support to help the company.