Plymouth Rock Legal

Watershed Verdict

In 2009, Attorney Murray was the lead counsel in Nolan v. Ocean Spray, a civil case in which his client was awarded $ 1 million after a three week jury trial in Plymouth Superior Court against a high powered Boston law firm. The award was later increased by the trial judge to $2.9 million.

The jury on Friday found Lakeville-based Ocean Spray liable on one count of using an unfair or deceptive trade practice against The Nolan Network, a fresh produce sales and merchandising firm run by Theresa Nolan of Plymouth. Meanwhile, the jury found two individuals – a current Ocean Spray executive and a former executive – named in The Nolan Network's 2003 lawsuit were not liable.

Theresa and her husband James sued Ocean Spray in 2003, claiming the cooperative had unfairly decided to not renew the Nolans' contract to act as a middleman for fresh cranberries to retailers such as BJ's Wholesale Club and Sam's Club. The suit also alleged that Ocean Spray tried to portray The Nolan Network in a bad light after the Nolans questioned certain price deals that Ocean Spray made with retailers that weren't Nolan clients.

James Nolan, who died last year, was a longtime Ocean Spray employee who retired from the cooperative in 2001 and continued to work with Ocean Spray as part of his wife's company.

"The verdict is more than a victory," said Christopher Murray, a lawyer who represents The Nolan Network. "It's a vindication for Theresa Nolan and the late Jim Nolan, and it really speaks to Theresa's integrity and her strength as a businesswoman, and somebody who has had to deal with some major hurdles in the last year-and-a-half."

An Ocean Spray spokesman said the cooperative will ask Superior Court Judge Robert Rufo to set aside the jury's verdict within the next 10 days.

"We're happy that the individuals in the claim were vindicated and the jury found that they did nothing wrong," said John Isaf, a spokesman for Ocean Spray. "But we're disappointed and really perplexed with the inconsistency with which the jury found the verdict against Ocean Spray."

Murray said The Nolan Network had been a sales and merchandise agent for Ocean Spray from 1999 through 2002. The Nolan Network brokered shipments of fresh cranberries to retailers to be sold as baking ingredients in the September-December season.

The Nolans raised concerns about at least two arrangements – one with Costco and another with H.E. Butt Grocery Co. in Texas – in which Ocean Spray allegedly undercut prices that The Nolan Network secured for its clients. Ocean Spray replaced The Nolan Network in August 2003 by hiring The Oppenheimer Group of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Jon Chesto may be reached at jchesto@ledger.com.

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