A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit in which Supervalu was accused of using "dirty tricks" to undermine two Wal-Mart developments in Illinois.
Supervalu may well have been "sneaky" in a surreptitious plan to tank the projects, Judge Harry Leineweber decided earlier this week. But he found that the Eden Prairie-based company didn't engage in fraud or other illegal maneuvers.
Supervalu and a co-defendant "do not really deny they were sneaky, but claim that being sneaky is legal under the Constitution," Leineweber wrote in his ruling.
Supervalu spokesman Mike Siemienas said the company is "pleased that the judge dismissed the case against Supervalu."
The suit was filed in June 2010 by two Illinois developers who alleged that Supervalu secretly retained Saint Consulting Group to drum up opposition to two planned Wal-Mart Supercenters in suburban Chicago. Massachusetts-based Saint was also named as a defendant.
Supervalu owns Jewel, the largest grocery chain in the Chicago area, as well as the Twin Cities grocery leader, Cub Foods. The company, one of the nation's largest supermarket operators, competes fiercely with Wal-Mart across the country.
Wal-Mart Supercenters sometimes draw opposition from community groups and labor unions. The Illinois developers, McVickers Development and Rubloff Development Group, ran up against such opposition in the late 2000s, delaying their Wal-Mart-anchored projects in Mundelein and New Lenox, Ill.
But in their suit, the developers claimed that opposition ostensibly coming from local residents was actually being fomented by Saint Consulting at the behest of its client, Supervalu.
Saint advertises itself as "'protect[ing] its clients from unwanted competition' and touts its staff as 'Wal-Mart killers,'" Leineweber wrote.
The developers found out about Saint's involvement when Leigh Mayo, an "agent provocateur" in drumming up local opposition, turned on Saint, according to Leineweber's ruling.
Mayo used the pseudonym "Greg Olson" to foster opposition to one of the Chicago area developments, the ruling said.
Saint alleges that Mayo, in return for cash, turned over 3,000 Saint documents to a Rubloff executive.
The documents revealed Saint's attempts to delay or kill the Wal-Mart project, Leineweber's ruling said.
Mike Hughlett 612-673-7003