ROCKLAND, Maine — The former owner of Atwood’s Lobster in South Thomaston is alleging that the corporation that bought the business took advantage of his declining cognitive state during negotiations for a revised lease agreement four years ago.
The lawsuit filed last month by William Atwood, 81, is the third lawsuit that has been filed against Maine Lobster and Processing LLC within the past year. The two other lawsuits included allegations of mismanagement and failure to pay lobster suppliers, as well as allegations of illegal actions such as the repackaging expired seafood to market the product as fresh.
Maine Lobster Processing LLC — which is part of Illinois-based seafood supplier Mazzetta Lobster Company LLC — has denied the allegations brought forth in the lawsuits, according to court documents.
Atwood sold his Knox County lobster supplying businesses, Atwood Lobster and Warnershores LLC, to Maine Lobster and Processing LLC in 2011. At the time of the sale, according to Mainebiz, Atwood Lobster was the largest lobster shipping facility in Maine, selling about 4 million pounds of lobster annually.
The terms of the 2011 sale included a lease agreement that would allow Maine Lobster and Processing LLC to use part of a waterfront property owned by Atwood in Tenants Harbor.
In 2015, representatives from Maine Lobster and Processing LLC began approaching Atwood to negotiate a revised lease agreement, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Atwood by his attorney, Patrick Mellor.
In 2014, Atwood began seeking medical consultation for failing memory and other cognitive problems, Mellor wrote.
When Atwood’s wife became aware that Maine Lobster and Processing LLC representatives were trying to get Atwood to sign a legal document, she told the representatives that due to his cognitive problems, Atwood should not sign “any agreement without first taking it home to be reviewed by [Mrs. Atwood] and with counsel,” according to the lawsuit.
However, on March 10, 2015, the company’s representatives presented the agreement to Atwood when he was alone with no counsel and Atwood signed the agreement, the lawsuit alleges.
The revised lease agreement expands the portion of the Tenants Harbor property that Maine Lobster and Processing LLC is allowed to operate within and bars Atwood from conducting any business at the property that would compete with the processing business.
“After Mr. Atwood realized the significance of the amendment that he signed, he experienced shock, dismay and humiliations that he had been taken advantage of,” the lawsuit states. “It is Mr. Atwood’s position that the amendment is void as it was signed when he was not competent to contract.”
Mellor said his client, through representatives, has tried since fall 2015 to negotiate a resolution with Maine Lobster and Processing LLC. The lawsuit also alleges that the company has breached the terms of the lease by using parts of the property not permitted by the agreement and for allowing the property to fall into disrepair.
The lawsuit asks the court to void the revised lease agreement and declare that the company is trespassing on the property.
The lawsuit filed by Atwood follows a lawsuit filed in February by Redeem Lobster Company Inc., an Owls Head lobster dealer, alleging that Maine Lobster and Processing LLC failed to pay for nearly $26,000 worth of lobster.
Maine Lobster and Processing LLC has denied the claims lodged by Redeem Lobster Company Inc. A mediation was scheduled for June 26, but no documents pertaining to the mediation have been filed.
In July 2018, the former general manager of Maine Lobster and Processing LLC’s facility in South Thomaston filed a lawsuit claiming he was fired for raising concerns about the company taking allegedly illegal actions.
In the lawsuit, the former general manager, Corey Thompson, claims that the company was selling lobster at deflated prices to another subsidiary of Mazzetta Lobster Company LLC, creating artificial financial losses for the South Thomaston company.
Thompson also raised concerns that the company was repackaging expired seafood and labeling the products as fresh.
Maine Lobster and Processing LLC denied these claims. The lawsuit was dismissed in April.
An attorney representing Maine Lobster and Processing LLC said midday Tuesday that he was not immediately able to provide a comment on the most recent lawsuit.
Watch: The Maine lobster industry