CHICAGO – The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, declined a motion by Tyson Foods Inc. to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the company of conspiring to fix prices for turkey products.
Defendants in the turkey case include Agri Stats Inc., Butterball, Cargill, Cooper Farms, Hormel Foods, Farbest Foods, Foster Farms and Tyson Foods subsidiaries. According to the original complaint filed in December of 2019, Olean Wholesale Grocery Cooperative Inc. and others accused the defendants conspiring to fix prices for turkey meat. The defendants in the case filed motions to dismiss the class action lawsuit in June of 2020.
Kraft Heinz Foods also was named in the complaint, but in granting the company’s motion to dismiss, US District Court Judge Virginia M. Kendall ruled the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence that Kraft Heinz’s behavior had any anti-competitive impact on the output or prices of Kraft’s product.
“The Court dismissed the Kraft Defendants because, despite the plausibility of Plaintiffs’ market allegations, Kraft was a turkey purchaser and did not operate as a turkey producer and the only price and cost data alleged are prices and costs associated with whole turkey,” Kendall said in her opinion. “The Court stated, ‘Plaintiffs have alleged an information exchange and a relevant market, but they have failed to allege that the information exchange had any anti-competitive impact on the output or prices of Kraft’s products.’”
In its motion, Tyson sought to apply the same reasoning. But Kendall ruled that the allegations against Tyson Foods and Kraft Heinz are distinguishable.
“The Plaintiffs’ Complaints contain specific allegations connecting the Tyson Defendants to the antitrust harms alleged here,” according to the opinion. “The Complaints allege, for example, that Tyson participated in Agri Stats’ reports on Turkey; that Tyson participated and served as officers in the National Turkey Federation; that Tyson has representation on the Board of Directors of the US Poultry & Egg Association (US Poultry), which describes itself as the world’s largest and most active poultry organization whose members include producers and processors of broilers, turkeys, ducks, eggs, and breeding stock; and that Tyson has board representation on the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), which represents companies that process 95% of red meat and 70% of turkey products in the United States and their suppliers throughout the country.
“The complaints contain significantly less allegations pertaining to Kraft and the majority of the allegations pertained to background information on Kraft, such as where its subsidiaries are headquartered,” according to the opinion.