WASHINGTON – A judicial panel denied a request from farmers seeking to combine anti-trust lawsuits they filed against major poultry processors.

The US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) concluded that it was unnecessary to combine Haff Poultry, Inc. et al v. Tyson Foods, Inc. et al and Haff Poultry, Inc. et al v. Koch Foods, Inc. et al. The lawsuits are pending in the Eastern District of Oklahoma and the Eastern District of North Carolina, respectively. The plaintiffs sought to centralize pretrial proceedings in the Eastern District of Oklahoma.

In its decision, the panel said, “…There is no dispute that this litigation involves common factual questions relating to allegations that defendants agreed not to compete for “Broiler Grow-Out Services,” i.e., the services of farmers who raise broiler chickens under contracts with chicken processors such as defendants.

“But there are only two actions before the Panel, brought by the same plaintiffs against different defendants. In these circumstances, alternatives to centralization, such as informal cooperation among the relatively few involved attorneys and coordination among the involved courts, are eminently feasible and will be sufficient to minimize any potential for duplicative discovery or inconsistent pretrial rulings.”

The JPML is tasked with deciding whether civil actions pending in different federal court districts should be transferred to one federal district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. The panel also selects the judge or judges and the court assigned to conduct the proceedings. The “centralization” of cases helps to avoid duplication of discovery, to prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings and to manage the resources of the parties, counsel and the judiciary.

Haff Poultry, Inc. et al v. Tyson Foods, Inc. et al was filed on Jan. 27, 2017, while Haff Poultry, Inc. et al v. Koch Foods, Inc. et al. was filed on Feb. 21, 2018. The request to centralize the two cases was filed on March 8, 2018.

The cases are two of many lawsuits filed against major poultry processors accusing the companies of sharing detailed information on poultry grower pay to eliminate competition and lower grower compensation nationwide. Foodservice distributors such as Sysco and US Foods Corp. also sued the poultry companies on allegations of manipulating supplies of broiler chickens to “prop up” prices for poultry.