Earth of the salt
This case highlights the importance of clean equipment when carrying ingredients for moving food.
In 2006, Cargill and Ron Burge Trucking entered into a motor transport agreement that included rules about what loads Burge could carry before hauling food-grade salt, and how Burge had to wash its trucks before loading the salt.
In April 2010, Burge hauled a load of food-grade salt from Cargill’s facility in Akron, Ohio, to Leprino Foods in Remus, Mich. Leprino used the salt to make a brine solution to “cure” batches of mozzarella cheese.
The court said contrary to the agreement, Burge hauled roofing aggregate in the truck before loading the truck with salt.
The contaminated salt was used to produce nearly a million pounds of mozzarella cheese, which Leprino discarded. Leprino submitted a claim to Cargill in the amount of $2.4 million for the allegedly ruined cheese, and refused to order any products from Cargill for nearly two years.
Burge eventually admitted the truck hauled roofing aggregate, and the court said apparently part of the mistake was that Burge classified all material from the supplier of the previous load as limestone, even though the supplier’s bill of lading for the previous load stated it was roofing aggregate.
Cargill ultimately settled Leprino’s claims against it for $1.6 million, including a provision that Cargill would become the exclusive supplier of Leprino’s salt nationwide. The settlement agreement assigned to Cargill all of Leprino’s claims against Burge.
Cargill then brought a lawsuit (Cargill, Inc. v. Ron Burge Trucking, Inc. D. Minnesota. Civ. No. 11–2394. Feb. 19.), raising nine claims against Burge and three claims against the trucker’s insurer. Cargill sought partial summary judgment on some of its claims against Burge, and summary judgment on two of Leprino’s claims.
Burge told a different story, pointing out that Cargill inspected the trailer before the salt was loaded into it and found no problems, and also the salt delivered to Leprino was mixed with another load of salt before being used to make the cheese. (Cargill contended the record showed the salt hoppers at Leprino were empty when Cargill’s salt was unloaded from Burge’s truck.) In addition, Leprino discovered rock granules in the brine five days before discontinuing production of the cheese, and in fact stopped production only when a magnet found a staple in the brine solution.
Finally, when Burge tested the cheese, it found no rocks whatsoever in the cheese itself.
The court said it had concerns with a magistrate judge’s comments on the issue of discovery, adding “not only is the failure to produce the salt and cheese a likely violation of Cargill’s discovery obligations, but that failure also arouses suspicions about the merits of Cargill’s claims here.”
The court said while there was no question Burge breached the contract, there were questions of fact as to whether that breach was the proximate cause of Cargill’s and Leprino’s damages and denied Cargill’s motions for summary judgment.
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