Farmers seek class action status in $1.1 billion lawsuit against C.H. Robinson

February 12, 2020

Greg Grisolano

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A dozen growers in North and South America are suing Fortune 500 logistics provider C.H. Robinson Worldwide, alleging the company engaged in illegal business practices in violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act.

Among the allegations in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Minnesota is that the company and one of its subsidiaries, Robinson Fresh, engaged in “freight topping” – a process of structuring the transportation of the consigned produce in a manner that would place additional revenue in the company’s coffers, rather than the plaintiffs.

The complaint alleges that Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson overcharged for shipping costs while underpaying growers for many types of produce. The lawsuit claims the company maintained two sets of books, and that Robinson Fresh added false charges to packing, labeling and other items it used to pay for its donations related to a breast cancer awareness campaign.

The lawsuit seeks class certification and the forfeiture of produce commissions received by C.H. Robinson from 2012 to 2018.

“CHR Worldwide’s substantial and intentional breach of its fiduciary duties owed to plaintiffs by taking secret profits on freight transactions, seed, pallet rental and other third-party transactions on the sales of plaintiffs’ produce as well as the deduction of undisclosed and unauthorized rebates, expenses and promotional fees paid to buyers and donations related to the Pink Ribbon campaign make all sales commissions charged to plaintiffs for produce sales during the years 2012 through 2018 subject to forfeiture,” the lawsuit states.

While C.H. Robinson has yet to file a formal response in court, the company has issued a public statement in response to the allegations, claiming 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.”

It also states that C.H. Robinson denies “any and all allegations of wrongdoing” and will “oppose any attempt” to certify class status.

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Greg Grisolano

Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.