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January 29, 2009 5:21 PM

McGuire Says No Thanks to Peanut Corporation of America

Posted by Zach Lowe


We wrote yesterday that the Peanut Corporation of America had reached out to McGuireWoods to defend itself against civil suits related to a nationwide outbreak of salmonella that has killed eight people and sickened at least 100. The lead plaintiffs lawyer in one of the cases, William Marler in Seattle, said he'd been dealing with McGuire partner James Neale. 

Neale called us this morning and said McGuire had ultimately decided not to represent PCA, which is sure to face more civil suits after a federal investigation revealed it knew on at least 12 separate occasions since 2006 that its products were tainted with salmonella but released them to the public anyway.

Marler, who is filing another lawsuit today on behalf of the family of a boy who fell ill, says he's now in contact with a new PCA attorney: Alan Maxwell, a partner of the Atlanta-based firm Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial. According to his bio, Maxwell has cornered the market on food-borne illness defense work, having represented, among others, spinach producers suspected in E. Coli outbreaks and other peanut butter producers sued over salmonella outbreaks. 

Maxwell did not return messages seeking comment. Marler and Fred Pritzker, the other plaintiffs lawyer who has already filed suit against PCA, both say they've been up against Maxwell in food-borne illness cases before. (Pritzker and Marler specialize in the area, and Pritzker says he plans to file another complaint on behalf of the family of an elderly Minnesota woman who died amid the outbreak; that would bring to four the total of peanut-related civil suits filed so far.) 

Marler says when he spoke to Maxwell over the phone on Thursday, Maxwell was en route to the PCA plant in Blakely, Ga., where the tainted peanut butter allegedly originated. PCA products are used as ingredients in some popular snack foods (including Keebler cookies) and sold directly to nursing homes and schools.

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