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JBS Prepares to Exit Pork Antitrust Case With Third Settlement

April 16, 2021, 3:24 PM

JBS SA will pay nearly $13 million to resolve a proposed pork price-fixing class action led by restaurants and retailers, the last plaintiffs with live claims against the meatpacking giant after deals with wholesalers and consumers worth $45 million, according to a federal court filing in Minneapolis.

The settlement, docketed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, is the third eight-figure agreement reached by JBS, which has agreed to escape wholesaler allegations for $24.5 million and consumer claims for $20 million.

Those deals have gotten tentative approval from Judge John R. Tunheim. If he approves the “commercial and institutional indirect purchaser” agreement, it will end litigation over the role JBS played in an alleged industrywide scheme to raise prices through coordinated statements and secret data exchanges.

The total price tag for JBS will come to $57 million. The company has also pledged to cooperate against Tyson Foods Inc., Hormel Foods Corp., Clemens Family Corp., Seabord Corp., and Smithfield Foods Inc. The meatpackers, including JBS, allegedly control 80% of the wholesale pork market.

The consolidated antitrust lawsuit, filed in 2018, is part of a wave of cartel cases involving livestock and protein, including chicken, beef, turkey, tuna, salmon, and eggs. Tuna and chicken executives are facing actual or potential prison time in connection with the price-fixing allegations.

The pork suit accuses the meatpackers of coordinating on price by publicly touting the need for herd cutbacks and laundering secret information through proprietary databases published by Agri Stats Inc., which is also named as a defendant.

Food distribution giant Sysco Corp. opted out of the consolidated case last month to bring its own parallel suit in a federal court in Houston. Seaboard faces related allegations in Delaware, where an investor sued it in December over its role in the scheme.

Tunheim, who’s also overseeing the beef cartel case, let the pork price-fixing suit move forward in October. He cited “a massively atypical jump in the price of pork” accompanying a sudden decrease in supply “after nearly a decade of sustained growth.”

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

Sysco is represented by Boies Schiller Flexner LLP.

The case is In re Pork Antitrust Litig., D. Minn., No. 18-cv-1776, motion for preliminary settlement approval filed 4/15/21.

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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