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Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Others Get Nod for $181 Million Antitrust Deal

Dec. 21, 2021, 6:18 PM

The consumers leading antitrust litigation over an alleged industrywide scheme to fix broiler chicken prices won final approval from a federal judge in Chicago for their $181 million class action settlement with Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., Tyson Foods Inc., and other poultry processors.

Judge Thomas M. Durkin signed off late Monday on six agreements resolving “indirect purchaser” claims in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, though he held off ruling on a $60 million fee request by counsel for the consumers.

The deal includes a $99 million agreement with Tyson, a $76 million pact with Pilgrim’s, and four settlements with smaller poultry processors worth a combined $6 million. Durkin called it “fair, reasonable, and adequate” in light of the costs and risks of additional litigation.

“While damages in this case are estimated to be in the billions, the risks of non-recovery have been significant,” the judge wrote. “The court’s 92-page decision denying the motions to dismiss was a relatively close call,” and success going forward “is no guarantee,” he added.

The ruling comes three days after a group of 10 current and former chicken executives—including two ex-CEOs of Pilgrim’s—forced a mistrial of criminal antitrust charges stemming from the alleged price-fixing scheme.

It also follows about three weeks after Durkin awarded $55 million in legal fees to counsel for the chicken wholesalers leading another part of the sprawling civil case. The wholesalers settlements to date are worth $170 million.

The consolidated proposed class actions, which began in 2016, are part of a wave of cartel cases involving livestock and protein, including beef, turkey, pork, tuna, salmon, and eggs.

Most of the lawsuits allege price-fixing schemes centering on unlawful exchanges of sensitive information through Agri Stats Inc., which compiles farm sector databases.

The broiler chicken industry has been particularly hard hit. Along with the main civil case and the criminal charges, top poultry processors and executives face claims they conspired to drive down pay for chicken farmers and their largely immigrant workforce.

Many of the companies have settled many of the claims against them over about the past year. Tyson and Pilgrim’s, a subsidiary of Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS SA, have agreed to pay more than $200 million each in total.

Durkin approved the consumer settlements after a court hearing Monday. He noted that the $181 million figure is larger than similar deals reached on behalf of wholesalers or restaurants, despite legal technicalities that limit the consumers to pursuing claims in “about half the states in the country.”

About 1.2 million consumers have filed claims already, while only three have objected, the judge said.

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC are class counsel for the consumers. Tyson is represented by Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP and Lipe Lyons Murphy Nahrstadt & Pontikis Ltd. Pilgrim’s is represented by Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and Eimer Stahl LLP.

The case is In re Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litig., N.D. Ill., No. 16-cv-8637, 12/20/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Leonard in Washington at mleonard@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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