Lawsuit of the week: UBC sues New York-based company after its owner dies in freak guacamole machine explosion

University seeks return of deposit on food processing system

Rob Kruyt/BIV files

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is suing New York-based Elmhurst Systems LLC for the return of a deposit on a food processing system the company allegedly never delivered due to the death of the company’s owner in a freak accident involving a guacamole-making machine.

The university filed a notice of civil claim in BC Supreme Court on October 28 against the Wynantskill, New York-based limited liability company, which makes “high pressure processing systems for use in food processing.” The company’s owner was Dr. Joseph Kapp, a former mayor of Rensselaer, New York, who died on August 5, 2020, the claim states. While the lawsuit makes no mention of the cause of death,  local media reports at the time said Kapp, 67, died in an explosion while testing a high-pressure processing machine for manufacturing guacamole. The explosion also injured two others.

According to the lawsuit, UBC requested proposals in August 2019 for a processing system for its non-thermal food processing research facility “for use in researching and development state-of-the-art food processing technologies.”

Elmhurst’s proposal, the lawsuit says, put a US$222,500 price tag on installing such a system and required a 50% deposit. The university claims it issued a purchase order in November 2019 for production and delivery of the system, as well as freight charges, installation and training and a four-year warranty. UBC made the down payment in December 2019 and claims the company’s invoice “did not contain any terms or conditions that would entitle Elmhurst to keep the down payment in the event it did not deliver the processing system.”

The university claims it didn’t learn of Dr. Kapp’s death until early this year “after months of being unable to contact him regarding the processing system.”

In April 2021, UBC’s lawyers sent a letter to Kapp’s wife about the processing system, requesting “that Elmhurst confirm that it would either deliver the processing system or refund the down payment.”

But counsel for Kapp’s estate replied that the company was “not likely … in a position to fulfil any obligations it had to UBC pursuant to the purchase order.”

The university seeks judgment against Elmhurst for breach of contract, seeking the return of the US$111,250 deposit. The allegations have not been tested or proven in court, and Elmhurst Systems LLC had not filed a reply to the claim by press time.