Ex-Indie Grocer Wins $16 Million from Supervalu in Court

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Ex-Indie Grocer Wins $16 Million from Supervalu in Court

RICHMOND, Va. -- A jury awarded Jonathan "Johnny" Johnson, a former grocer in the Richmond, Va. area, $16 million on Wednesday in a personal-injury lawsuit against Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu, Inc.

Johnson had filed a $25 million lawsuit against Supervalu in March 2004, a month before he closed his four Community Pride inner-city supermarkets, accusing the wholesaler/retailer of preventing him from buying a Virginia Beach-based 18-outlet food store chain that had just emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Supervalu sent Progressive Grocer a statement that made it clear the company will continue to fight.

"Supervalu is disappointed in this verdict, and we believe the outcome of the trial is contrary to the law and the facts that were presented in this case," the company said. "We intend to file a motion for a new trial, and if necessary pursue an appeal. As we have maintained all along, Supervalu believes its success is linked directly to the success of the retailers it serves. Supervalu is a company built on integrity, and it has a long history of standing by its retail customers, including Mr. Johnson. The company made significant efforts to help Mr. Johnson grow his business, and we believe the facts presented at trial supported that position."

According to press reports, during the 11-day trial, Johnson and his attorneys argued that Supervalu singled him out as a troublemaker. They also claimed that while Supervalu had extended to him high-interest loans and supply contracts worth millions, the company backed off support for Johnson when he tried to increase his revenue by expanding.

Supervalu, however, said Johnson's stores were failing, and not worth the risk of further loans or agreements that would allow him to purchase additional stores.