Our client, with headquarters in Alhambra, but also operating out of Van Nuys, was one of about twenty-five seafood importers targeted by inspectors from the Los Angeles County Department of Weights and Measures. The inspectors were tipped off by a well-known seafood restaurant owner in Van Nuys that the seafood it bought from China often weighed far less than labeled.
This is a situation that periodically occurs, it seems, about every four of five years. Inspectors will identify up to two dozen importers who allegedly are responsible, they resolve the case and a few years later, the same situation will arise, usually with new offenders, often with a different type of sea food, i.e. shrimp versus sea bass, shrimp versus tuna, etc.
Overview: Van Nuys Superior Court, incorrect weight on frozen squid, plea bargain reached for misdemeanor and one-year summary probation wherein client paid investigative costs and fine to court.
The most common product that was sold by our client at less than its advertised weight was shrimp, but also oysters, cod and squid.
As our client explained, when its Chinese provider sold the product, it weighed the product while glazed with ice for shipping. Consequently, when the ice melted, the remaining product at issue (squid in this case) weighed less than advertised.
The Los Angeles City Attorney handling this case out of the Van Nuys Courthouse told Greg Hill that based on the shortfall in weight of actual product, our client was the worst offender of all twenty-five importers cited. In other words, our client apparently bought frozen squid from the supplier who used the most ice glaze to boost the weight of its product.
Our client, working out of Alhambra, was charged with just two misdemeanor violations of California Business and Professions Code § 12024 (wrongful sale or distribution of a commodity with less quantity than is represented on labels) and § 12603 (improper packaging and labeling), although it could have been cited for dozens of violations of the same section, the Los Angeles City Attorney warned, for similar issues with the other seafood it also sold.
All he wanted was to put our client on notice of the problem, have our client fix it, recover his investigation costs and have our client pay a statutory fine. The City Attorney seemed to understand that this type of conduct is difficult to curb because the importer will buy from one of the lowest cost exporters not knowing if their glazing is excessive.
Our client immediately fixed the labels once cited and changed their source of squid from whom they bought squid in China. There was quite a bit of grumbling about this, as this seller in China was the least expensive (for good reason!).
The client then called us, concerned a criminal case would be filed, which was indeed already filed in the Van Nuys Superior Court.
The Van Nuys Courthouse was the venue because the “victim” was the business who initially complained about the low weight of the seafood was located in Van Nuys. The victim was concerned about being anonymous, as it knew that if it complained too loudly, the suppliers would retaliate in time with higher prices and slower service. The commercial seafood industry was big, but it was dominated by a few large companies that could agree upon higher prices for one purchaser in particular. The prosecutor would not even tell Greg Hill who the complaining party was, preferring to just maintain the anonymity of the restaurant and the person.
Greg Hill of Greg Hill & Associates then appeared in court and, after two appearances in court over two months, negotiated a plea bargain wherein the City Attorney dismissed the 12603 charge, but our client pled to a misdemeanor violation of the 12024 charge.
Our client had to pay investigative costs of about $1,200 to the Los Angeles County Department of Weights and Measures and a $1,000 fine to the Los Angeles Superior Court (plus penalties and assessments). Because the client was the worst offender of all twenty-five importers cited, the City Attorney placed our client on informal, or summary, probation for one year with a vow to conduct a random re-inspection to ensure labeling compliance.
For more information about the issues in this case summary, click on the following articles:
- What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?
- What Is Summary Probation?
- What Is the Difference Between an Infraction and a Misdemeanor?