February 13, 2020

Logistics firm C.H. Robinson sued by group of growers

A group of growers is suing C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. — the parent company for logistics operations, produce sourcing operations and brands such as Robinson Fresh — for alleged violations of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA).

The lawsuit, filed in Minnesota’s U.S. District Court in mid-January, includes a variety of complaints ranging from C.H. Robinson allegedly unfairly profiting from the transportation of produce (“freight topping”), to claiming the company donated millions to breast cancer charities on behalf of retail customers, while actually billing growers for the donations.

“In furtherance of its illegal profiteering scheme, CHR Worldwide and its various subsidiaries have for years deceived scores of federal, state, and local courts and government agencies (including the United States Department of Agriculture and Securities and Exchange Commission), generations of family-owned farms, and small, large, locally owned and businesses including grocers, retailers, wholesalers, restaurants — along with those businesses’ customers — all of whom are situated throughout the United States and its territories,” according to the lawsuit.

C.H. Robinson responded to the lawsuit in a written statement to Fruit Growers News, Produce Processing’s sister publication, on Feb. 11:

“The complaint was designed to capture media attention, and it contains an enormous amount of self-serving falsehoods as well as blatant mischaracterizations and fabrications about our company, teams and the actual agreements signed by the growers themselves,” according to the written statement. “We deny any and all allegations of wrongdoing and look forward to vigorously defending our actions, as well as filing legitimate counterclaims against the growers.

Grower plaintiffs in named lawsuit are:

  • David Moore doing business as Moore Family Farms
  • Terry Lusk, Jason Lusk, doing business as JTJ Farms
  • Kevin Rentz, Amanda Calhoun Rentz, Dennis Bruce Rentz, and Karla Jo Rentz doing business as Rentz Family Farms
  • Kevin Coggins doing business as Mek Farms
  • Bowles Farming Company Inc.
  • Agropecuaria Los Americanos S.C. de R.L. de C.V.
  • Phil Sandifer & Sons Farms LLC
  • JMB Farm LLC
  • Powe Farms Management LLC
  • CA Comercial S.A.C.
  • Global Fres S.A. C
  • Pepas Tropicales Del Peru S.A.C.

While the lawsuit seeks class action status, “it is important to note that the lawsuit has not been certified as a class action at this time, and C.H. Robinson will oppose any attempt to certify it as such,” according to a statement from the company.

C.H. Robinson said the USDA’s Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) division ran an on-site, seven-day investigation into the legal complaint’s allegations.

“C.H. Robinson cooperated and supported their thorough investigation and at no time during or after the investigation, did the USDA PACA division advise of any irregularities or take any disciplinary actions against C.H. Robinson as a result of their investigation,” according to the company’s written statement.

“We are proud of the work we do with our teams, growers, and customers throughout the world, and we look forward to putting this entirely meritless complaint behind us,” Michael Castagnetto, President of Robinson Fresh, a division of C.H. Robinson, said in the statement.

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