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The latest in legal battle between OSHA, Foundation Food Group
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A sign along Memorial Drive announces hiring at Foundation Food Group in February 2021. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Department of Labor has gone to court again seeking help to enforce subpoenas in an investigation into Foundation Food Group. 

The petition came July 19 on behalf of Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh concerning a March 11 complaint regarding ammonia at the Gainesville plant.

In June, documents were unsealed in U.S. District Court showing the legal battle between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Foundation Food Group.

According to the petition, OSHA has sought to interview five managers. Though the company’s attorney said he received the subpoenas seeking to interview these managers, the managers did not show July 15-16 to provide testimony.

According to a memo attached with the petition, one of Foundation Food Group’s attorneys asked OSHA to release the transcripts of interviews during the investigation into the Jan. 28 nitrogen leak. Six people died and 12 people were hospitalized following that leak.

On July 14, Foundation Food Group’s attorney told OSHA that the managers would not appear unless the agency provided copies of the transcripts in the nitrogen leak inspection and agreed to provide a transcript copy of these upcoming interviews, according to the court filing.

OSHA responded to the request by saying “good cause existed” to not release the transcripts but would allow the witnesses to schedule a time to inspect and note any corrections to the transcripts.

The memo claimed that there have been no attempts to inspect the transcript.

“Upon information and belief, in failing to appear, the named respondents were acting on the advice of (Foundation Food Group)’s counsel,” according to the Department of Labor petition. “Time is of the essence, as the secretary must conclude his investigation and issue any citations and notifications of penalty for any alleged violations … and related occupational safety and health standards no later than Sept. 10, 2021.”

Attorney Matt Cook, who is representing one of the managers separately, declined to comment Monday, July 26.

Foundation Food Group did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

In emails attached to the court filings, the attorney for Foundation Food Group said the managers will not voluntarily sit for sworn interviews if OSHA refuses to provide the copies of previous testimony, claiming it is a deviation from OSHA’s own rules.

“OSHA has interviewed some of (Foundation Food Group’s) managers more than three times and those (managers) have also been interviewed by the Chemical Safety Board and are now subject to depositions in multiple private litigation matters related to the accident,” according to the company’s attorney’s email.

The company has until Wednesday, July 28, to respond to the motion to enforce the subpoenas.

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