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From Antitrust Law Daily, December 2, 2015

Conspiracy claims rejected in Bluefin Tuna suit

By Greg Hammond, J.D.

Allegations that a seafood processor and a lending institution engaged in a conspiracy to eliminate competition in the Bluefin Tuna market by acquiring the credit agreement and mortgages of a defaulting competitor in foreclosure were dismissed by the federal district court in New York City. The court determined that the plaintiffs lacked antitrust standing because their injury arose from their loan default, not from any unlawful conspiracy (Maricultura Del Norte, S. de R.L. de C.V. v. Worldbusiness Capital, Inc., November 24, 2015, McMahon, C.).

Maricultura Del Norte, S. de R.L. de C.V. and its partner Servax Bleu filed suit against Worldbusiness Capital, Inc., Umami Sustainable Seafood, Inc., and Amerra Capital Management, LLC in December 2014, alleging—in part—an unlawful conspiracy to eliminate competition in the United States Bluefin Tuna market. In particular, Maricultura defaulted on a loan with Worldbusiness, and Worldbusiness foreclosed on the fishing vessels that secured the loan. While foreclosure proceedings were still ongoing in Mexico, Worldbusiness assigned the loan to Umami, Maricultura’s principal competitor. Amerra and Umami filed separate motions to dismiss, arguing that (1) the Sherman Act claim is barred by the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (FTAIA); (2) the plaintiffs lack antitrust standing; and (3) the complaint fails to plead facts plausibly demonstrating a conspiracy within the meaning of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

FTAIA. The court first determined that the FTAIA did not bar the plaintiffs’ Sherman Act claim. In particular, allegations that the plaintiffs wanted to export Bluefin Tuna into the United States and were prevented from doing so due to the defendants’ allegedly anticompetitive conduct were sufficient to implicate the FTAIA’s import exception. Further, allegations that (1) the defendants’ actions have substantially impaired the plaintiffs’ exports of Bluefin Tuna into the United States, thereby impacting United States import trade and commerce; (2) the conduct interfered with the plaintiffs’ ability to conduct business freely in the United States Bluefin Tuna market; and (3) the defendants’ agreements materially limited the plaintiffs’ ability to capture, farm, and export Bluefin Tuna into the United States, were sufficient to describe conduct involving import trade or commerce.

Antitrust standing. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs lacked antitrust standing to bring their Sherman Act conspiracy claim. The plaintiffs argued that by significantly impairing and foreclosing the plaintiffs’ ability to compete in the Bluefin Tuna market, Umami and Amerra impaired competition in the Bluefin Tuna market leading to increased prices for Bluefin Tuna. The court determined that although the plaintiffs alleged the market was harmed, they did not and could not allege that their injury flowed from the defendants’ alleged conspiracy. Rather, the source of the plaintiffs’ alleged injury was that their fishing vessels were been seized. This, according to the court, was not the consequence of any unlawful conspiracy, but of Maricultura’s failure to pay what it owed on its loan. The Sherman Act claim was therefore dismissed. The court granted Amerra’s motion to dismiss in a separate opinion.

The case number is 14 Civ. 10143 (CM).

Attorneys: Ilan Rosenberg (Gordon & Rees, LLP) for Maricultura Del Norte, S. de R.L. de C.V. and Servax Bleu, S. de R.L. de C.V. Andrew J. Gallo (Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP) for Worldbusiness Capital, Inc. Bruce Wayne Bieber (Zimmet Bieber, LLP) and Martin S. Siegel (Brown Rudnick LLP) for Umami Sustainable Seafood, Inc. Steven M. Bierman (Sidley Austin LLP) for Craig A. Tashjian and Amerra Capital Management, LLC.

Companies: Maricultura Del Norte, S. de R.L. de C.V.; Servax Bleu, S. de R.L. de C.V.; Worldbusiness Capital, Inc.; Umami Sustainable Seafood, Inc.; Amerra Capital Management, LLC

MainStory: TopStory Antitrust NewYorkNews

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