CHICAGO – US District Court Judge Thomas M. Durkin granted preliminary approval of settlement agreements reached in a class action lawsuit against Tyson Foods Inc., Peco Foods Inc., Fieldale Corp. and George’s Farms Corp. The lawsuit alleged the poultry processors engaged in a conspiracy to suppress chicken production and raise prices in violation of federal and state anti-trust and consumer protection laws.
As part of the settlement agreement, Fieldale would pay $1.7 million, Peco Foods $1.9 million, George’s $1.9 million and Tyson $99 million for a total of $104.5 million, according to the court document. The court document said the “ice breaker settlements” and the companies’ agreement to provide cooperation will strengthen the class’s case against the remaining processors.
The case has been litigated in federal court since 2016. In 2017, the court denied a motion by the processors to dismiss the case. Since then, rigorous discovery has netted plaintiffs’ attorneys more than eight million documents, and more than 100 depositions of defendants’ employees and third parties were taken.
The court document states that settlement negotiations with Fieldale started in September 2017 without a resolution. Discussions restarted in November 2018 and March 2019 following depositions of Fieldale employees. But discussions again fell apart.
In August 2020, after more depositions of Fieldale employees and third parties, settlement discussions resumed.
“These discussions continued intensely through October 2020 and included discussions about cooperation Fieldale could provide to support EUCP’s motion for class certification,” according to the court document. “EUCPs and Fieldale signed a memorandum of understanding on Oct. 30, 2020, and signed the final settlement agreement on Dec. 3, 2020.”
Settlement discussions with Peco Foods and George’s began in September 2019. Intense negotiations continued until February 2020, but no agreement was reached. Discussions resumed in July 2020 and continued until Oct. 28, 2020, when the EUCPs signed settlement agreements with both defendants, the court document said.
EUCPs first discussed settlement with Tyson in January 2020. Negotiations were mediated by Judge Daniel Weinstein (ret.). In early April 2020, the parties engaged in mediated negotiations but were unable to reach agreement. Negotiations continued through July 2020, but the parties did not reach agreement.
“In December 2020, the parties agreed to continue negotiations with another mediation day facilitated by Judge Weinstein,” the court document said. “Following an intense day-long mediation in mid-January 2021, the parties reached an agreement. The final settlement agreement was signed on Feb. 24, 2021.”