May 4, 2009
Dept. of Justice Joins Lawsuit Against School Lunch Supplier
A federal district court in Los Angeles unsealed a major False Claims Act lawsuit filed by The Humane Society of the United States against the two companies—Hallmark Meat Packing and Westland Meat Company Inc.—responsible for the downed animal abuse scandal last year in Chino, Calif.
The HSUS's investigation into the mistreatment of animals too sick or injured to walk, which exposed abuses at the country's second largest supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program, led to the largest meat recall in the nation's history.
The lawsuit alleges that Westland/Hallmark defrauded the federal government by violating the terms of its school lunch program contracts requiring the humane handling of animals.
After reviewing The HSUS's complaint, the U.S. Department of Justice elected to intervene in the case and join The HSUS in seeking to recover approximately $150 million in taxpayer money spent on potentially tainted ground beef during the period covered by the recall.
"We commend the U.S. Department of Justice for joining The HSUS in seeking to hold federal meat suppliers accountable when they fail to provide humane treatment of animals in accordance with federal law," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS. "The meat industry should take notice that if they defraud federal agencies and the American taxpayers by abusing animals, there will be serious consequences for their inhumane and reckless actions."
The False Claims Act empowers private citizens with knowledge of fraud against the U.S. government to present those claims by bringing a lawsuit, called a qui tam suit, on behalf of the United States to recover significant civil penalties and treble damages. The Department of Justice intervenes in less than one-quarter of all qui tam cases filed.
The Case is captioned as United States of America ex rel. The Humane Society of the United States v. Hallmark Meat Packing Company; Westland Meat Company, Inc.