Expect appeals of recent poultry antitrust suit ruling

Because the lawsuit alleging poultry industry collusion is a model for similar litigation against pork and turkey companies, the odds of plaintiffs letting decision stand are very unlikely.

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Allegations that seven companies conspired to limit the broiler supply and drive up the price of chicken may have been dismissed by a federal judge earlier this summer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean courts will no longer hear arguments against them.

In fact, Brook Duer, staff attorney for the Penn State Center for Agricultural and Shale Law, said it is almost certain that the recent ruling in the federal antitrust suit will be appealed.

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 to prove that poultry integrators Perdue Farms, Fieldale Farms, Case Farms, Claxton Poultry, Foster Farms and Wayne Farms were ever involved in such a conspiracy. In that same decision, Durkin stated that there was also insufficient evidence that Agri Stats, a company that aggregates and analyzes data provided by the producers and publishes the data in reports that allow the producers to compare their performance against industry averages and identify areas for improvement, conspired with the poultry companies.  

In theory, these companies would not have to worry about further court action in this suit, but Duer, who has been closely following the litigation, says there are two things that could keep the case alive.

“With regard to those parties, all seven of those including Agri Stats, they are done, if there is nothing that occurs on appeal from this decision that would reverse it in some way. They are completely done unless this court were to change its mind on some kind of request for reconsideration, or an appeal,” Duer said.

But Duer said reconsideration requests very seldom get granted, so the more likely scenario would be an appeal. That scenario is actually very likely, he said.

“I think the likelihood that appeals will be taken, it’s probably 100% as to some of these dismissals, if not maybe all of them,” he said.

It is possible that some of those dismissals “might be left alone,” because it could be a case in which even the plaintiffs may decide they didn’t really have enough evidence against certain defendant companies.

But, since this lawsuit is somewhat of a trendsetter, and similar suits have been filed against companies within the pork and turkey industries, “the chance of appeal of every single one of these seven dismissals is probably about close to 100%. I think we’re going to see that happening,” Duer said.

Brook DuerBrook DuerNational Agricultural Law Center

‘A confusing mess’

Duer does not necessarily think that the case will be appealed singularly, in which the same allegations against all of the same companies will be asked to be reviewed again. It could be, in case a plaintiff attorney alleged that the court mishandled the suit in some manner, which happens pretty often.

However, there are also strong odds there will be cases in which plaintiff classes will want allegations against each of the companies to be reviewed separately on appeal. And that will make it all the more difficult to keep track of the status of the lawsuits.

“It will be a confusing mess of piecemeal appeals,” he said. “Some of these classes (direct purchasers, indirect purchasers and end users), they will take appeals for everything – all of the dismissals and all of the parties who are dismissed now. Some of them may elect for whatever reason not to, so it will get a little confusing,” he said.

Other plaintiffs not dismissed

While allegations against seven of the companies originally named in the class action suit have been dismissed, that wasn’t the case with more than half of those accused of collusion.

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.

Since the time that these class-action lawsuits were filed, Wayne Farms and Sanderson Farms merged to form Wayne-Sanderson Farms, while Tyson Foods acquired Keystone Foods, which was owned by Marfrig Global Foods at the time of the filing. The period in which alleged collusion took place was between 2008 and 2012.

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