KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) – The Sweet Art Co. says it suffered financial ruin after a supplier sent it “food jet cartridges” tainted with ink. Sweet Art makes and sells – or made and sold – machines that use digital scanners and inkjet printers to decorate cookies and cakes.
Sweet Art sued Midwest Technology Connection and its president Brett Littrell in Jackson County Court.
Sweet Art says it started selling its Jet Decorator in 1985, which used a modified video camera to capture an image, which was airbrushed onto a cake.
It upgraded to digital in 1995, replacing the camera with a digital scanner, and replacing the airbrushes with “a full-color inkjet printer manufactured by [nonparty] Hewlett Packard,” according to the complaint.
“The printer cartridges were remanufactured to remove all traces of ink, then filled with food coloring. … When performed correctly, the filling procedures yielded a safe product free of ink and microbial contamination risks,” the complaint states.
Sweet Art says it hired Midwest Technology Connection, a remanufactured cartridge supplier, in 1996, after MTC promised that “the cartridges would be cleaned and filled in a sterile environment to food-grade specifications, then tested, sealed and packaged for delivery to Sweet Art customers.”
Alas, Massachusetts, Missouri and the FDA began investigating the cartridges in 2009 after numerous complaints, Sweet Art says. Investigators found the MTC cartridges were contaminated with ink, forcing Sweet Art to recall all of them, leaving the company “in financial ruin,” according to the complaint.
Sweet Art claims that MTC president Brett Littrell admitted that “the equipment used to clean and fill the black Food Jet Cartridges had not worked properly for some time, had now failed completely, and MTC would not replace the equipment because the FDA investigation left uncertain the future of the Sweet Art business.”
On Feb. 3 this year, the FDA confirmed that ink had been found in Sweet Art cartridges and requested a recall of all cartridges. Sweet Art says it complied, though it meant the end of its business.
The next day, Sweet Art says, it contacted Littrell to ask for help in reimbursing Sweet Art customers, but Littrell said the recall was “not his problem.” At the time, Littrell was completing his purchase of Midwest Technology, the complaint states.
Two days after the FDA recall, Littrell allegedly contacted Sweet Art and offered to buy the company, an offer Sweet Art says it rejected. On Feb. 9, Littrell requested a face-to-face meeting with Sweet Art official Art Smith to discuss the remaining inventory, according to the complaint.
“Littrell told Smith that MTC could sell its remaining inventory of Food Jet Cartridges before the FDA would be able to stop him,” the complaint states. “Smith told Littrell he wanted no part of the plan, and instead suggested that MTC leave the ink in the cartridges and offer them back to his supplier for a loss. Littrell suggested Sweet Art should assume the loss.”
Sweet Art says that Littrell approached it again on Feb. 12 about buying the company. Sweet Art says Smith asked him instead to reimburse Sweet Art customers.
“Littrell said if anyone came after him for money, he would just dissolve MTC and reincorporate the next day under a different name,” the complaint states. “Littrell suggested that Smith do the same.”
Sweet Art claims Littrell approached Smith again in April about buying him out, but Sweet Art continued to demand that Littrell help reimburse Sweet Art customers.
During the conversation, “Littrell revealed for the first time it was ‘impossible to get all of the (ink) residue’ out of the Food Jet Cartridges,” the complaint states. (Parenthetical word as in complaint.) “He went on to opine that all food products are contaminated with chemicals, and MTC had no responsibility because ‘no one died or got sick.’ Finally, Littrell challenged Sweet Art to spend its remaining money on a lawsuit against him, because Littrell’s insurance company ‘would defend him for free.'”
Sweet Art claims Littrell’s purchase offer was a thinly veiled attempt at limiting Midwest Technology’s liability, and that Smith and Sweet Art then cut off all communications with him.
Sweet Art says it paid more than $1.38 million for Food Jet Cartridges from Midwest Technology between August 2002 and February 2010.
It claims that “the conduct of Littrell was outrageous due to his evil motive or reckless indifference of the rights of Sweet Art.”
Sweet Art seeks punitive damages for breach of warranty and fraud. It is represented by Matthew Geiger with Gaddy Geiger & Brown of Kansas City, Mo.