Dickie’s Seafood owner blames contractors for Northside fire in $10M lawsuit

Dickie’s Seafood has rebuilt its Northside factory after a fire destroyed its previous facilities in June 2020. (File photo courtesy of Dickie’s Seafood)

An argument over who’s to blame for a fire that gutted a Northside seafood production facility has sparked a formal legal battle.

Sustainable Sea Products International, which owns the Dickie’s Seafood facility at 1508 Brook Road, is waging a lawsuit against two contractors whose work it claims caused the 2020 fire that destroyed much of the property.

The Florida-based company has sued Dutton Food Equipment Repair and Old Dominion Metal Products, seeking $10 million in damages on claims of negligence. The lawsuit was filed in Richmond Circuit Court in late January.

According to the complaint, SSPI hired Dutton to design, build and install cooking systems in the building prior to the fire. Acting as general contractor for the project, Dutton then hired Old Dominion Metal to design and install a fry line exhaust ventilation system.

The project was completed in 2019. Then on June 5, 2020, a fire started above the fry line system, the lawsuit alleges.

In addition to the damage of the property, SSPI was forced to mothball much of Dickie’s operations until the 16,000-square-foot Brook Road facility could be rebuilt and reopened in the summer of 2021. On top of the more than $5 million the company spent to reopen, it claims it also lost significant revenue during the downtime, all of which resulted in damages in excess of $7 million.

Dickie’s Seafood CEO Frank Fay (center left in blue jacket) shares remarks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the company’s new factory in 2021. (BizSense file photo)

The lawsuit, which is likely an effort to trigger insurance policies held by the defendants, hits Dutton with one count of negligence, claiming it “failed to exercise reasonable care in its design of the subject fry line, vents and exhausts…”

It makes nearly identical claims of Old Dominion Metal.

Dutton filed its response to the suit on Feb. 16, denying the claims and denying the amount of damages. Old Dominion Metal has yet to file its response.

SSPI is represented in the lawsuit by attorney Matthew McLean of law firm Thompson, Brody and Kaplan in Chicago. Richmond attorney C. Jay Robbins is serving as local counsel in the case.

Reached by phone last week, McLean said the lawsuit speaks for itself.

“We’re just getting started on it and we’re hopeful to have some movement towards a resolution by the end of the year,” he said.

Dutton is represented by Daniel Royce of Kalbaugh, Pfund & Messersmith, who did not return a call seeking comment.

Old Dominion Metal is represented by attorney Donald Morris, who also did not return a call last week.

Additional plaintiffs in the case are SSPI affiliates SSPI Real Estate Holdings and SSPI Mid-Atlantic.

Dickie’s was founded by Dickie Poh in 1978. The company is known for its packaged shrimp sold in supermarkets. Its rebuilt Brook Road facility is able to is able to produce up to 1,500 pounds of cooked shrimp an hour.

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