Chicken Companies Argue Against Class Certification

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On Friday, companies accused of artificially inflating the price of broiler chickens filed oppositions to motions to certify the three classes, including direct purchaser plaintiffs, commercial and institutional indirect purchaser plaintiffs, and end-user plaintiffs in a putative class action antitrust lawsuit. Each of the oppositions cited purported problems with the plaintiff’s claims and asked the Illinois Northern District Court not to approve the classes.

The public redacted version of the opposition to the direct purchaser plaintiffs’ motion argued that the lawsuit, which was brought against 20 companies including chicken processors and agricultural statistics companies, alleges a “decades-long conspiracy,” but the plaintiffs “have not put in the work, or show that the work is even possible” to provide proof for their allegations. The defendants claimed that the group of plaintiffs would not be able to prove class-wide injury, and that as a result the class should not be certified.

The defendants argued that the direct purchaser group of plaintiffs had not met the predominance requirement, and that they only used models from one expert, but that the models “are rigged and thus cannot withstand the ‘rigorous analysis.’” Further, they explained that the defendants differ in producing different sizes of birds and selling them through different channels which have a variance of demand, they said “all chicken is not equal.”

The other two oppositions made similar arguments, that the variance in the market for chicken was too broad to be able to meet the standard to join the plaintiffs into a class or to be able to prove class-wide damages. The indirect purchasers were accused of ignoring “the realities of chicken production” and “the complexity and variation in chicken distribution and purchasing.”

The defendants also claimed that using the term “broilers” is a misleading simplification of the industry, because it combines various cuts of meat and products. The oppositions explained that the cuts of chicken vary between companies and there is also more complexity involved in pricing chicken than was shown in the plaintiffs’ allegations.

The end-user and consumer plaintiffs’ interim lead counsel is Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, the direct purchaser plaintiffs’ interim liaison class counsel is Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge, LLC, and the commercial and institutional indirect purchaser plaintiffs’ liaison counsel is Wexler Wallace LLP. The defendants are represented by separate counsel including Kirkland & Ellis LLP representing Sanderson Farms and Venable LLP representing Perdue Farms.

Some defendants have begun to settle claims associated with this lawsuit.  Tyson has agreed to pay $221.5 million to address claims from each group of plaintiffs and Pilgrim’s Pride has agreed to a $75 million settlement with the direct purchaser plaintiffs.