More than a year after South Dakota beef processor Beef Products Inc. (BPI) filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News Inc. for its coverage of lean, finely textured beef (LFTB)—which since gained the infamous moniker “pink slime”—the two sides are awaiting a North Dakota state court judge’s decision on whether to dismiss the case.
“We are in state court and the parties have briefed for the court motions to dismiss,” Erik Connolly, a lawyer for BPI, told FoodNavigator-USA.
The defendants filed four separate motions early this month to challenge whether the complaint itself states viable cause of action against them. The plaintiffs issued responses, and now the state court judge will decide whether she wants oral argument or if the case will be decided without them before ruling on the motion for dismissal.
The timeframe for a ruling is unknown, though the size and scale of the motions suggest it could be lengthy.
Brought back to state court
Although the suit was originally filed in state court, lawyers for ABC moved in October 2012 to have the suit transferred to federal district court in South Dakota, arguing that the parties involved are all from different states. (Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based BPI is incorporated in Nebraska, while BPI Technology Inc. and Freezing Machines Inc., are incorporated in Delaware. ABC is also incorporated in Delaware.)
ABC also asserted that not all three are involved in producing or selling LFTB—thereby removing their right to make such claims, but BPI argued (and the judge eventually ruled) that all three companies are real parties in interest.
BPI is seeking $1.2 billion in damages over ABC’s coverage of LFTB, which BPI claims led to a loss of confidence in its products by consumers and retailers by making the product appear unsafe or unhealthy for consumption. The beef processor directly blames ABC for declining sales of the product, three factory closures and the termination of more than 700 BPI employee jobs.
A spokesperson for BPI declined to comment on both the status of the suit and the current market for LFTB.