April 7, 2017 — The long and torturous legal battle with NOAA that sent the former Gloucester Fish Exchange into bankruptcy and to its ultimate sale may not be over just yet.
The owners of GFX — the forerunner to the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange on Harbor Loop — are suing NOAA in federal court to recoup about $464,000 in legal fees the company paid during its battle and ultimate settlement with the federal fisheries regulator.
The action names current Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as defendants.
The suit, prompted by NOAA’s final decision on March 6 denying GFX any reimbursement for legal fees, rekindles the battle that began as far back as 2005. The long-running affair resulted in two NOAA enforcement actions against the former auction — and a subsequent apology by then Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco for the excesses of the agency’s law enforcement unit.
The former owners of GFX seek to void the settlement GFX agreed to for the enforcement actions, saying the deal should be set aside because it was the product of “economic duress” created by NOAA, and that NOAA “breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”
“The amount of attorneys’ fees and costs that GFX has had to bear, as well as the permit sanctions imposed and modified numerous times throughout the mosaic of agency actions … which in fact caused GFX to enter bankruptcy, are arbitrary and/or excessive,” the suit claims.