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Local high school involved in multimillion-dollar class-action suit

BY KAITLIN DEWULF | SEPTEMBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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A local high school has been included in the multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit involving a distributing company’s alleged attempt to monopolize food sales in Iowa schools.

Regina Catholic High was one of 894 Iowa schools that received food service from Martin Brothers Distributing Co. Inc., whose operations are based in Cedar Falls.

The lawsuit claimed the distributing company conspired with the Iowa Educators Consortium and its successor, the Iowa Association for Educational Purchasing, to restrain competition in the market for retail sales of food at Iowa schools.

Regina used the company through its membership in the Iowa Educators Consortium.

Alan Opheim, the director of finance and operations at the Regina Education Center, said the school was a member of the Iowa Educators Consortium for eight years — from 2002 to 2003 and 2007 to 2014.

Opheim said the high school was given a number of vendors as options to use for its food service, and it used Martin Brothers because the company was inexpensive.

Martin Brothers was also accused of violating Iowa antitrust laws by attempting to monopolize the market.

Students who paid for food at listed Iowa-based pre-kindergarten, elementary, middle, or high schools between Jan. 1, 2000, and Aug. 1, 2014, may be affected by the lawsuit and owed a settlement, according to a press release issued by the law firm involved in the case, Gilardi & Co. LLC.

Settlement members include those who purchased food at any of the listed high schools, and these individuals could receive up to $3.50 per year they attended, up to a maximum of $50 per student.
Opheim said the school was never officially notified of the class-action suit.

“We’ve received nothing from the court system,” he said. “It is our due diligence to get something out to our parents letting them know. We want that release out there immediately so they still have a couple weeks to file a claim.”

President of Regina Education Center Lee Iben said when he and his staff were made aware of the situation they decided their next course of action was to notify the parents of the students.

“[The lawsuit] affects everyone who was on the school-lunch program,” Iben said. “Now it’s up to the parents to decide if they want to pursue the collection of the funds due to them.”

Iben said he has had no complaints from settlement class members since the release of the settlement, and he doesn’t think it represents Regina poorly.

Martin Brothers has agreed to pay a settlement of $1.9 million in order to settle the claims to cover attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Iowa Educators Consortium and the Iowa Association for Educational Purchasing will also make payments totaling $150,000 through their insurers to cover certain costs.

University of Iowa sophomore Peter Rhomberg was awarded $28 after attending Regina schools since kindergarten.

However, like Regina officials, Rhomberg wasn’t initially aware of the court case.

“There should be more awareness for students who attended these schools,” Rhomberg said.

“Because if affected students or parents aren’t filing claims, that’s money Martin Brothers won’t have to pay as part of its settlement.”


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