A local table grape grower won a round in his legal battle last week to stop the proposed sale of a Bakersfield grape growing company of which he is a co-owner.
A private arbitration panel set up to resolve Jack Pandol’s lawsuit against International Fruit Genetics LLC on September 18 issued an injunction that could halt the company’s proposed sale to a Spanish conglomerate.
Pandol said by email on Monday that the decision would delay the sale of IFG’s assets to SNFL Investments LLC – a subsidiary of Spanish conglomerate AM Fresh and its minority partner in the transaction, Swedish investment firm EQT Future – until April at the earliest.
The decision is the latest development in a high-level court battle involving two lawsuits between Pandol and IFG.
In March, Pandol sued IFG, arguing that the proposed sale would risk unfairly depriving him of his rights as a 25 percent owner of the company.
Then, in July, IFG sued him and his Shafter-based company Grapery, alleging trade secret misappropriation as part of a plan to compete with the company using an unfair market advantage.
A copy of this month’s restraining order was not available Monday. Although the arbitration arises out of a complaint Pandol filed publicly against IFG in Kern County Superior Court on March 16, the arbitration will be considered private. Both sides agreed Monday to discuss the decision, but neither wanted to share a copy of the arbitration panel’s written decision.
“It is crystal clear (the delay will continue) until the end of the arbitration, which is scheduled to last until at least sometime in April,” Pandol wrote.
IFG called the injunction a “procedural and preliminary arbitration award,” but declined to address how it might affect the timeline for the proposed sale.
“We remain confident in the correctness of our case and are pleased that the arbitrator is giving this issue the attention it deserves,” the company said in a statement, stressing that the injunction will not affect the service it provides to its customers .
Neither party would say how the delay could help or hurt prospects for the eventual sale of IFG.
Pandol’s lawsuit alleges IFG’s other co-founders, the Stoller family, of attempting to sell the company without his consent. He claims that buying SNFL would likely free him from his contractual right to a quarter of the company’s product innovations.
An injunction granted in July in the case sent his lawsuit to the arbitral tribunal, which issued last week’s decision.
IFG’s lawsuit alleges that Pandol and Grapery, the exclusive marketers of Cotton Candy grapes, used their access to proprietary data to start a competing fruit breeding operation without making the necessary investments in costly and time-consuming research.
In the summer of 2021, IFG received a purchase offer from a third party, prompting it to launch an auction of the company. As part of this process, Grapery was allowed to see IFG’s confidential information about varieties, prices and sales volumes.
Grapery has denied benefiting from IFG’s proprietary information but has admitted it is working on setting up its own grape growing operation.