MEDFORD, Ore. (CN) - A federal judge dismissed three proposed defendants from a class action that claims the country's largest seafood processor uses anticompetitive tactics to hurt independent fishermen, but claims against dozens of other defendants can proceed to a trial set for next year.
The original 2008 complaint filed by Lloyd Whatley and his son, Todd, accuses Pacific Seafood Group and its 54 subsidiaries of price fixing and cornering the West Coast market on Dungeness crab, shrimp, ground and whiting fish since 2005.
To drive down the prices that local commercial fishermen can get for their catch, Pacific Seafood has conspired with Ocean Gold, a large Westport, Wash.-based whiting processor, the Whatleys claim.
U.S. District Judge Owen Panner ruled Tuesday that the lawsuit could proceed over the companies' objection that the Whatleys had failed to state a claim. He also ruled to dismiss the charges against three Ocean Gold subsidiaries, Ocean Protein, Ocean Gold Transport and Ocean Cold.
Tuesday's decision comes on the heels of a ruling last month that the Whatleys, fishermen based in Brookings, Ore., were not entitled to an injunction that would prohibit the seafood processors from communicating with each other about what they pay fishermen for their products.
Although the Whatleys claim that Pacific Seafood and Ocean Gold has been suppressing competition in the Pacific coast fish markets, Panner ruled that a 2006 agreement between the companies is evidence that shows the processors' combined operations have expanded the whiting market.
The other fish markets could not be substantially affected since Ocean Gold has "little or no share" of those areas, Panner wrote on Feb. 28.
He added that the Whatleys could not get an injunction because they failed to prove that they were being hurt by price-fixing, while Pacific Seafood and Ocean Gold showed that an injunction would hurt their business.
The Whatleys are represented by Michael Haglund of Portland. The men are seeking $520 million in damages and injunctions against the company.