Supreme Court refuses appeal against Tyson
Jan. 25, 2011
by Meat&Poultry Staff
WASHINGTON – On Jan. 24, the U.S. Supreme Court refused an appeal from Alton Terry, a former Tennessee poultry farmer who sued Tyson Farms after losing his contract to raise their chickens, according to The Associated Press. The justices did not comment in turning away Terry, who said Tyson cut him off because he helped organize area farmers and complained about the company's practices. Lower courts had previously dismissed the lawsuit.
Terry argued he had lost his contract to raise chickens on his 12-acre farm because he complained too much. He was a poultry farmer who brought together a group of area farmers and told them they had the right to complain about Tyson's practices. He also raised concerns directly with Tyson.
Terry claimed Tyson and other big companies have too much sway over farmers, and federal courts also have bowed to agribusiness interests by setting too high a standard for the farmers to succeed in court. He casts his fight as a "struggle between those who grow our food and those who process and market it."
Tyson Farms, a unit of Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc., had urged the court to avoid the lawsuit, arguing that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati properly dismissed it. The 6th Circuit ruled Terry not only had to show that he was harmed by Tyson actions, but that he also had to prove the company diminished competition by ending Terry's contract and sending a signal to other farmers. Terry didn't even claim anticompetitive behavior by Tyson, much less prove it, the court said.
“We’re not surprised the Supreme Court declined to hear this case,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told MEATPOULTRY.com. “As the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals noted in an earlier opinion in this case, there has been a ‘tidal wave’ of cases from eight circuits holding that the purpose of the Packers and Stockyards Act is to protect competition, and the Act only prohibits those practices that harm competition. Terry’s claims, which Tyson denied and which we believe would have been ultimately disproven had the case gone to trial, are simply not the kind Congress intended for the Act to address.
“This is the same issue we address in our comments against the proposed rule published last year by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration [GIPSA],” he added. “The proposed rule is largely based on the GIPSA’s position that violations of sections the Act can be established in the absence of harm to competition, however, the courts have overwhelmingly rejected this interpretation.
“Contrary to the impression left by the Terry case, our company relies on contract poultry farmers to raise our chickens efficiently and we want them to be successful,” he continued. “Our relationship with them, which is already extensively regulated, is vitally important to us and our overall business. Tyson has been working with poultry growers on a contractual basis since the late 1940s and it has been a relationship that has worked effectively for both the grower and the company. In fact, there are currently almost 6,000 contract growers who raise chickens for our company.
“It is also worth noting, that the termination of Terry’s contract with our company had nothing to do with his reported organizing efforts or complaints to USDA,” Mickelson concluded.