A US District Court judge has dismissed claims that coffee company Port of Mokha and its founder, Mokhtar Alkhanshali — the subject of Dave Eggers’ nonfiction bestseller Monk of Mokha — engaged in racketeering and fraud. The civil lawsuit alleged that Alkhanshali, along with other defendants including Oakland-headquartered Blue Bottle Coffee, illegally pushed out Alkhanshali’s original business partners in Yemen, a group that included his uncle there.
But a judge for the Northern District of California determined that the court lacked jurisdiction in the matter, and the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the pattern of racketeering required under their Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit. Nevertheless, a lawyer for the plaintiffs says the case is ongoing — and reiterates allegations that his clients were cheated.
Eggers’ literary nonfiction account tells the inspiring origin story of Alkhanshali’s specialty coffee company, Port of Mokha. In 2013, Alkhanshali, who grew up in San Francisco, traveled to his family’s home in Yemen with the hope of reviving the the country’s historic but dormant coffee trade. Once there, he narrowly escaped Yemen’s violent civil war, fleeing with two briefcases of coffee by fishing boat.
The lawsuit told another story: Alkhanshali, the suit claimed, originally formed another company, Mokha Mill, but abandoned his partners and convinced Eggers to exclude them from his book. He allegedly pushed Blue Bottle Coffee to cease promoting Mokha Mill in favor of Alkhanshali’s new company, Port of Mokha. That business, now successful in part due to Eggers’ narrative, is sold by vendors like Blue Bottle for up to $16 a cup.
But in the end, the court found that the the individual plaintiffs lacked standing to assert their claims, and denied their requests for jurisdictional discovery. Under California law, “a plaintiff lacks standing under RICO if the alleged injury is derivative of harm to another legal entity, such as a corporation,” the Judge wrote — as was the case here, since the plaintiffs were allegedly harmed by Alkhanshali’s actions against the company Mokha Mill.
The court also determined that plaintiffs failed to adequately plead RICO’s “pattern” requirement: The RICO act, most commonly used to prosecute organized crime, hinges on allegations of continued harm and intimidation, and is notoriously difficult to prove.
The plaintiffs had the opportunity to file an amended complaint, but chose not to. Nonetheless, their lawyer insists the case isn’t over. “We’re considering all our legal options at this point,” says Yasin Almadani, a former assistant US attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs last year.