Attorney fee dispute from Pacific Seafood antitrust class action sent back to Oregon state court

Antitrust CasesAn Oregon federal judge on Tuesday sent to state court an attorneys’ fees suit stemming from a class action alleging Pacific Seafood Group monopolized the West Coast fish market, finding against Mayer Brown LLP’s arguments that the case should remain in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown shot down Mayer Brown’s objections to a magistrate judge’s findings and recommendations that the suit — brought against the firm by Dulcich Inc., which operates as Pacific Seafood and sought a judgment that it did not owe Mayer Brown some $5 million in attorneys’ fees — be remanded to Oregon state court.

“This court has carefully considered [Mayer Brown’s] objections and concludes they do not provide a basis to modify the [magistrate’s] findings and recommendation,” Judge Brown ruled.

With the judge’s order, the case will be sent back to a circuit court in Oregon’s Clackamas County, where it was originally filed in February 2012.

The underlying dispute stems from Mayer Brown’s representation of Pacific Seafood in a separate suit alleging the seafood processor used its dominant position as a wholesale buyer to pay fishermen below-market prices for fish caught off the West Coast, according to court filings. That antitrust case also alleged that Pacific Seafood exploited a joint venture with Ocean Gold Seafoods Inc. to fix prices.

In an April 2012 filing, representatives for more than 1,000 commercial fishermen indicated that they had agreed to drop their claims against the two seafood processing companies in exchange for set of concessions that were intended to improve transparency and competition in the market.

By that point, however, Pacific Seafood was no longer represented by Mayer Brown in the antitrust case, according to the seafood processor. In a declaratory judgment action initially filed in Oregon state court in February 2012 — removed to federal court in January of this year by Mayer Brown — Pacific Seafood said the law firm charged it an excessive amount of legal fees in connection with the antitrust action.

Mayer Brown, on the other hand, says it was stiffed by Pacific Seafood to the tune of more than $5 million in unpaid attorneys’ fees, according to court filings.

Shortly after the law firm removed Pacific Seafood’s declaratory judgment action to Oregon federal court in January, the seafood company filed a motion seeking a remand to the court in Clackamas County, according to the docket.

Addressing that motion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice M. Stewart in March issued findings and recommendations that the case should, indeed, be sent back to state court. Among other things, the magistrate ruled that Mayer Brown had not removed the case to federal court in a timely manner, according to the recommendation.

Mayer Brown lodged objections to the magistrate’s finding, saying in an April 5 filing that Judge Stewart had “misinterpreted” the firm’s rationale for removing the case to federal court.

In Tuesday’s ruling, however, U.S. District Judge Brown said she was not persuaded by the firm’s arguments and, accordingly, adopted the magistrate’s findings and recommendation to remand the case to state court.

Steve Larson
An experienced trial lawyer who handles both hourly and contingent fee cases, Steve has expertise in class actions, antitrust litigation, securities litigation, corporate disputes, intellectual property disputes, unfair competition claims, and disputes involving family wealth. Steve regularly represents individuals and businesses in federal and state court and has obtained class-wide recovery in multiple class actions. A veteran practitioner, Steve's clients value his creative approach to resolving complex litigation matters.


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