Jury: Egg producers, industry groups must pay $17.7 million

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that Cal-Maine Foods, Rose Acre Farms, United Egg Producers and United States Egg Marketers conspired to limit supply and raise egg prices.

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Cal-Maine Foods, Rose Acre Farms, United Egg Producers and United States Egg Marketers were ordered to pay $17.7 million to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleged the defendants participated in a conspiracy to limit the supply and drive up the cost of eggs.

The decision was reached on December 1 by a jury in a federal court in Illinois, according to a Law360 report. That same jury on November 21 ruled that the two largest egg producers in the United States and the two industry organizations took part in a conspiracy to restrict supply between October 2004 and December 2008

The case is Kraft Foods Global Inc. et al. v. United Egg Producers Inc. et al., Case No. 1:11-cv-880.

The suit was filed on behalf of Kraft Heinz Co. subsidiary General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co. and Nestle, with the case being filed in 2011. The companies asserted that they likely overpaid for eggs because of the conspiracy that they alleged happened.

Rose Acre Farms responds

In response to the December 1 decision, Rose Acre Farms issued the following statement: "Rose Acre Farms is disappointed — and strongly disagrees — with the jury’s verdict and damages award, which contradicts the jury decisions in the two previous trials (with other plaintiffs) on these same issues, which resulted in defense victories.

"Rose Acre has and continues to steadfastly deny being part of any anticompetitive egg price-fixing conspiracy, and we will continue to explore and consider all legal options, including post-trial relief and appeal. We remain committed, as we have over the past 70 years, to producing the highest quality eggs and egg products for our valued customers. We pride ourselves on the small-town values of character, integrity and service." 

Cal-Maine Foods also disagrees with decision

Cal-Maine Foods issued a statement, noting that any supply adjustments that occurred were made to accommodate an increased demand for eggs from hens that were not housed in cages.

The company further stated: "On December 1, 2023, the jury returned a verdict awarding the plaintiffs $17,777,579 in damages. This decision is not final and remains subject to the motion for a directed verdict noted below. Cal-Maine Foods would share responsibility with the other three defendants for the payment of this amount, trebled, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and subject to previous settlement credits. Cal-Maine Foods respects the jury’s decision and appreciates that the damages awarded by the jury are relatively modest compared to the damages sought but remains disappointed with the verdict as Cal-Maine Foods continues to believe that the company did nothing wrong. The two earlier trials based on substantially the same facts and legal arguments resulted in findings of no conspiracy and/or damages.

"Because Cal-Maine Foods believes that the plaintiffs’ claims fail as a matter of law, Cal-Maine Foods has petitioned the court to enter a judgment in its favor, known as a directed verdict, notwithstanding the jury’s decision. Significantly, the jury found that the UEP certified program itself does not constitute a restraint of trade. Also, because the egg producers in this case only represent 15.5 percent of the market, Cal-Maine Foods believes the law is clear that the defendants in issue did not have sufficient market power to restrain trade. Cal-Maine Foods looks forward to the court’s consideration of these arguments and will continue to evaluate its options, including, if necessary, an appeal."

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