Collusion case against Sanderson Farms goes to trial

Jury selection process is underway and opening arguments are expected to begin on September 18.

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Sanderson Farms is set to go to trial next week as the company faces allegations of conspiring with other major U.S. poultry producers to raise the price of chicken.

A spokesperson for the company confirmed that the trial will take place, but since it was a legal matter, declined to comment further.

This particular antitrust case involves a class of direct purchasers, who filed a class-action lawsuit that accuses the following companies of such a conspiracy: Sanderson Farms, Wayne Farms, Perdue Farms, Fieldale Farms, Case Farms, Claxton Poultry, Foster Farms, Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Harrison Poultry, Koch Foods, Mountaire Farms, Keystone Foods, Peco Foods, O.K. Foods, House of Raeford Farms, Simmons Foods and Agri Stats.

Sanderson Farms and Wayne Farms have since merged to form one company, Wayne-Sanderson Farms, but the plaintiffs say the alleged collusion took place on or before 2012 – one decade before the two companies merged. Tyson Foods and Keystone Foods are also one company, as Tyson acquired Keystone in 2018.

On June 30, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Judge Thomas M. Durkin issued a decision that there was insufficient evidence that Wayne Farms took place in any such conspiracy, and in that same decision, it was determined that there was also insufficient evidence against Perdue Farms, Fieldale Farms, Case Farms, Claxton Poultry, Foster Farms and Agri Stats.

At the time the decision involving Wayne Farms was made, Wayne-Sanderson Farms Chief Legal and Compliance Officer Jeremy Kilburn said: “Wayne-Sanderson Farms is pleased with the court's decision on June 30 to grant our request for summary judgement regarding Wayne Farms LLC in the Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation, and the court’s conclusion that many of the other key allegations by the plaintiffs … fail as a matter of law.  This ruling validates what has been Wayne Farms’ position since the day these suits were filed: Wayne Farms acted lawfully and was not part of any conspiracy to restrain supply or fix prices.

“Although we're disappointed in the court's decision regarding Sanderson Farms, we're looking forward to defending these claims using new motions based on the court’s favorable rulings of June 30, and at trial if needed.  We are confident that the facts, when presented, will demonstrate that the actions of Sanderson Farms and its former leadership were lawful as well."

Durkin wrote that a jury could potentially find that other defendant companies might have been involved in some sort of conspiracy, based on the evidence made available. Those companies include Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, Harrison Poultry, Koch Foods, Mountaire Farms, Keystone Foods, O.K. Foods, Peco Foods, House of Raeford Farms and Simmons Foods.

Some settlements have been offered by defendant companies.

According to a Bloomberg Law report, jury selection has commenced, with opening arguments expected to begin on September 18.

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