ORLANDO, Fla. -- A judge here has dismissed charges by Super Food Services that Albertson's violated an agreement when it broke off discussions two years ago to buy the wholesaler's Florida distribution centers.
The judge also narrowed the issue on which Super Food hoped to base its arguments regarding Albertson's alleged breach of a supply agreement. Judge Joseph P. Baker, of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court for Orange County, ruled that the only issue to be considered is whether Albertson's had given reasonable notice in terminating the agreement in 1992, not whether it had reasonable cause, as Super Food argued.
Super Food has 30 days to file a notice of appeal to the Florida Appellate Court. Jack Twyman, chairman and chief executive officer of Super Food, said in a written statement, "It is the opinion of special counsel for the company handling this case [William O. Bittman, of the Washington, D.C., law firm of Reed Smith Shaw & McClay] that the findings of the court are clearly erroneous as a matter of law and should be reversed on appeal and that the issues in the lawsuit will ultimately be resolved in the company's favor."
Albertson's officials told SN last week they had no comment on the case.
Super Food, Miamisburg, Ohio, filed suit against Boise, Idaho-based Albertson's in March 1992 for unspecified damages. The suit charged the retailer with breaking its supply agreement for reasons other than lack of satisfactory performance and breaching a settlement agreement to purchase substantially all the assets of Super Food's facilities here.
Prior to the break between the two companies early in 1992, Super Food had been supplying Albertson's Florida stores for 18 years, and Albertson's was the wholesaler's largest volume customer, accounting for 34% of Super Food's overall volume, or about $620 million.
Albertson's broke off its discussions with the wholesaler when Teamsters at the two facilities initially rejected its contract offer. Although the union accepted the offer on a subsequent vote, Albertson's had already made new supply arrangements with Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City.
Albertson's ended its agreement with Fleming and opened its own distribution facility in Plant City, Fla., late last year. Super Food eventually closed down its Florida facilities, which were leased, at a cost of $23 million, according to the wholesaler's financial reports.
In addition to the 30 days Super Food has to file a notice of appeal, it has another 70 days to file briefs to support its appeal, after which Albertson's will have 20 days to respond. The appellate court must then schedule a hearing, "which could take several months, although hopefully we will try to expedite the appeals process," John Demos, vice chairman, secretary and general counsel for Super Food, told SN last week.
If one of the parties is unhappy with the appellate court's decision, it can appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, which has the power to hear or not hear an appeal, Demos said.