A Mobile County Circuit Court jury has awarded $75,000 in damages to a Baldwin County farmer who said the Rouses grocery store chain used his photo in a “buy local” campaign while placing only four orders for his hydroponically grown specialty lettuce.
Micah Craine of Craine Creek Farm in Baldwin County alleged that Rouses posted large photos of himself and his family’s farm in Mobile-area stores and left them up even after Craine asked that they be removed. The Louisiana-based chain emphasizes its stock of local foods from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi as part of its marketing strategy to shoppers.
According to court documents, Rouses opened its first Alabama store in early 2014 and approached local farmers about buying their products and featuring their photos in the new stores. Craine was told Rouses would place weekly orders for the farm’s specialty lettuces.
“Without ever having placed any orders with Craine, Rouses undertook to outfit each one of its new Mobile area stores with a giant publicity picture of Micah Craine in their produce departments emblazoned with the names of Micah Craine and Craine Creek Farm LLC,” the lawsuit alleged.
“The picture also bore an endorsement from Craine which stated, ‘We’re a family-run farm in Baldwin County that’s proudly owned and operated by Steve, Anita and Micah Craine. We’re proud that our friends and neighbors can get our hydroponic greens at Rouses.’”
Craine protested that Rouses posted the photos before ever ordering any lettuce, and “inferior” lettuce from another farmer outside the area was placed beneath Craine’s photos in Mobile-area stores, damaging the farm’s reputation.
The Craine photos were also used twice in Rouses’ in-store promotional magazine that is published every other month. But Rouses only placed four orders in total, after the Craine family altered its farming practices to ensure they could supply the grocery stores weekly, the suit claimed.
Rouses contended it made a simple mistake in not removing the photos immediately when Craine asked that they be taken down, but that Craine could not prove that the farm or his family had been damaged monetarily or in any other way.
The parties went into court-sanctioned mediation but could not resolve all of their differences. The lawsuit then went to trial last month before Mobile County Circuit Judge Charles Graddick, and the jury awarded $75,000 to Craine.
Attorneys representing both parties did not return telephone calls from Lagniappe seeking comment.