DOJ Sues Hallmark Meat Packing and Westland Meat for Alleged Misrepresentations
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has intervened in a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit filed in California by the Humane Society of the United States against two former suppliers to the National School Lunch Program. The suit alleges that Hallmark Meat Packing Co. and Westland Meat Co., Inc. knowingly and falsely represented that cattle at their slaughtering facility were treated humanely and that beef supplied to the schools did not include meat from disabled, non-ambulatory animals. Videotape of employees abusing non-ambulatory animals at the slaughterhouse resulted in the recall of 143 million pounds of beef in February 2008.
Under the False Claims Act, private parties, or “relators,” may file claims on behalf of the U.S. government and may recover a portion of any recovery. The government, which will file an amended complaint now that it is a party to the action, is entitled to treble damages and civil penalties of $5,500 to $11,000 per violation if it prevails. According to a DOJ spokesperson, “The alleged misrepresentations by Hallmark and Westland could have impacted the health of many of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens—our schoolchildren. Our intervention in this case demonstrates how seriously we will pursue allegations such as these.” See DOJ Press Release, May 1, 2009.