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JBS $24.5 Million Pork Price-Fixing Settlement Gets Early OK

Jan. 14, 2021, 5:07 PM

The pork wholesalers leading a proposed price-fixing class action over an alleged industrywide cartel scheme won preliminary approval from a federal judge in Minneapolis for a $24.5 million settlement with meatpacking giant JBS SA.

Judge John R. Tunheim gave his tentative blessing to the deal, which resolves claims brought by “direct” purchasers, but not parallel retailer and consumer allegations consolidated with them in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

In addition to the payment, the pact includes a pledge by JBS to cooperate against the other pork processors named as defendants. Class counsel haven’t yet requested attorneys’ fees in connection with the agreement.

The deal—reached through “arm’s length negotiations by highly experienced counsel with the assistance of an experienced and nationally renowned mediator”—appears “fair, reasonable, adequate, and in the best interests of the settlement class,” the judge wrote Wednesday.

The approval decision comes about three months after Tunheim let the antitrust lawsuit proceed with claims that the country’s top pork processors fixed prices for years through secret data exchanges and coordinated public statements about the need for herd cutbacks.

In addition to JBS, the suit targets affiliates of Tyson Foods Inc., Hormel Foods Corp., Clemens Food Group LLC, Seaboard Foods LLC, Smithfield Foods Inc., Triumph Foods Inc., and Eli Lilly & Co. subsidiary Agri Stats Inc., which runs industry databases.

It’s part of a wave of price-fixing cases involving livestock and protein, including chicken, beef, turkey, tuna, salmon, and eggs. Tuna and chicken executives are also facing actual or potential prison time for their roles in the alleged schemes.

JBS subsidiary Pilgrim’s Pride Corp.—which saw its CEO hit with criminal charges in June—will pay $111 million to resolve a Justice Department probe. It also agreed Jan. 11 to settle the proposed class action for $75 million, and Tyson said the same day it had reached a deal in principle.

The beef industry, meanwhile, is contending with two separate federal investigations into its prices.

Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP and Pearson Simon & Warshaw LLP are lead counsel for the wholesalers. Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca LLP and Larson King LLP are lead counsel for the retailers. Gustafson Gluek PLLC and Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP are lead counsel for the consumers.

JBS is represented by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP. Hormel is represented by Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. Tyson is represented by Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP. Clemens is represented by Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

Seaboard is represented by Stinson LLP. Smithfield is represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Triumph is represented by Husch Blackwell LLP. Agri Stats is represented by Hogan Lovells US LLP.

The case is In re Pork Antitrust Litig., D. Minn., No. 18-cv-1776, 1/13/21.

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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