(UPDATED COVERAGE, Oct. 7) Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc. has won a class-action lawsuit that claimed it broke antitrust rules in protecting its sweet pineapple variety.
A Sept. 30 federal judgeâs ruling dismissed claims brought by retailers and consumers that accused the Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte of using monopoly power to threaten competitors and charge excessively high prices for its patented Gold Extra Sweet pineapples.
Carlos Sires, a lawyer representing Del Monte, said after more than five-and-a-half years of litigation, the judge correctly concluded that there was no basis to the plaintiffs' claims that Del Monte acted improperly in bringing to market and selling its pineapple.
He said he hopes the decision will put to rest similar class-action lawsuits in other states.
âWe always knew these suits were without merit,â Sires said. âLitigation like this is expensive and time-consuming. Five and half years after a lot of work and discovery, we moved to summary judgment. The judge agreed with us there was no basis for these claims that Del Monte acted illegally in either bringing to market or in selling the Del Monte Gold pineapple.â
The named plaintiffs included supermarkets such as Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., and wholesalers such as American Banana & Produce Co. Inc., North Versailles, Pa., Sires said.
Other chains such as Whole Foods Market Inc., Austin, Texas, and Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., were part of the class-action suit, he said.
Court papers had the consumer buyers alleging Del Monte wrote âfalse and misleadingâ lawsuit âthreat lettersâ to competitors that tried to sell the fruit and charged "supracompetitive pricesâ for its pineapples.
The plaintiffs charged Del Monte targeted Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif. and Maui Pineapple Co. Ltd., Kahului, Hawaii.
The judge ruled that Del Monte had a legitimate business justification to âdeter the theftâ of its pineapple âplant materialâ and therefore precluded liability for alleged âthreat lettersâ under U.S. antitrust laws, according to media reports.
Del Monte introduced its sweet variety in 1996.