RICHMOND, Va. -- The owner of Marketplace Holdings, a four-unit supermarket operator here, has filed a $25.35 million personal-injury lawsuit against Supervalu, Minneapolis, alleging that the supplier's actions toward his company have caused him to develop health problems.
Johnny Johnson, who operates the Community Pride stores specializing in urban retailing, has retained celebrity lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran of the O.J. Simpson murder trial to pursue the case. The suit reportedly alleges that Supervalu helped thwart Johnson's attempts to acquire another local chain, Camellia Food Stores, and has taken other actions that have caused Johnson to suffer from severalillnesses, including high blood pressure, bleeding ulcers, shingles and depression.
Johnson gained national notoriety in 1999 when his company became one of the country's largest minority-owned supermarkets through the purchase of three Rack & Sack stores here.
Supervalu said in a prepared statement that it believed the dispute with Marketplace Holdings arose because of the retailer's financial difficulties, which caused the wholesaler to cancel Marketplace's credit terms. Supervalu added that it has "been more than flexible in its efforts to work this out."
"We've worked hard to try to help Mr. Johnson with his business operations so he can follow through with his plans to sell his stores," the wholesaler said. "Despite the substantial debt owed us, we have continued shipping products, as long as payment is made, for the benefit of Marketplace Holdings and its customers."
In addition to allegations of interference in Johnson's attempt to acquire Camellia's, the lawsuit reportedly alleges that Supervalu charges more for merchandise supplied to Johnson's stores than it does to other area supermarkets and that it collected manufacturer rebates on products that Johnson did not order. The suit also claims Supervalu allowed its employees to make racially disparaging remarks about Johnson.
"Mr. Johnson's allegations of wrongdoing are false and totally inconsistent with the way we have conducted business for over 150 years," Supervalu said.