News Column

Lawsuit Against Office Depot Moves Forward

Feb. 15, 2013

Roger Phillips

The Stockton Unified School District took another small step this week in its ongoing effort to collect damages from Office Depot Inc., which is being sued by numerous school districts and government entities in California for allegedly overcharging for a variety of products.

The school board Tuesday night approved retaining an additional law firm that is assisting plaintiffs in the class-action litigation. Last summer, the board approved joining the case, in the process retaining several other attorneys. So far, there has been no settlement in the case.

"They couldn't settle out of court so they're going to go to court," Stockton Unified Superintendent Steve Lowder said.

The suit, which claims districts and governments statewide were overcharged in violation of contracts with Office Depot, originally was filed nearly four years ago in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

In legal terms, the case is a "qui tam" proceeding -- a suit in which a whistle-blower provides assistance to litigants and benefits if there is a penalty. Governments and districts such as Stockton Unified that join the suit have a shot at collecting a greater share of damages if the defendant is found guilty.

Though the suit Stockton Unified has joined involves only California governments and districts, entities across the nation have made similar allegations against Florida-based Office Depot. The San Joaquin County Office of Education also has joined the California suit.

According to the U-T San Diego newspaper, the suit -- if successful -- could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages against Office Depot. The newspaper reported that the lawsuit claims Office Depot did not fulfill low-price guarantees and committed other contractual violations that resulted in overcharges.

Lowder declined to speculate on the size of a potential award to Stockton Unified.

"It could be a big return," Lowder said. "Who knows? And who knows when it hits? Litigation could take a couple of years. it sure would be nice to have the additional money."

Source: (c)2013 The Record (Stockton, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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