On Monday, a case initially filed on June 3 was transferred from the District of Minnesota to a multi-district case in the Eastern District of Missouri. The class action complaint was filed by JSB Farms, LLC (JSB) on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated. They alleged that Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, and others violated antitrust and unfair competition laws through their influence on the market for crop inputs, which includes seeds and chemicals like herbicides and insecticides. JSB is joining over two dozen other plaintiffs in the larger case.
The past few years have seen a rise in the costs of crop inputs, the underlying complaint said. The rising costs have been noted to increase at a “significantly faster rate than profits from farmers’ crop yields.” This has resulted in farmers using a disproportionate amount of their income on crop inputs, placing them at the “least profitable level of the American food supply chain.”
Many of the defendants have what the JBS considers to be too much influence over the crop inputs industry. They explained that four manufacturers alone controlled 82% of corn seed sales in 2015 and believe that the percentage has increased since. In order to gain more control of the market, the plaintiff accused the defendants of forming an unlawful agreement in which they would artificially manipulate and fix the crop input prices.
The defendants have effectively stopped farmers from accessing relevant crop input market information by forcing retailers to boycott sales platforms that allowed consumers to comparison shop and make more informed decisions. They further alleged that the defendants “established a secretive distribution process that keeps Crop Inputs prices inflated at supracompetitive levels.” The complaint argued that the boycott would not have been possible without heavy coordination between the defendants. It is explained that “absent an agreement among themselves, Defendants’ actions were against their independent economic self-interests.”
The case is being transferred to the Eastern District of Missouri “per the MDL Panel for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.” In addition to unjust enrichment, cited in the complaint are violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the Sherman Act, and State consumer protection and antitrust statutes. The plaintiff is seeking class certification and for the defendants to cease anticompetitive conduct and be enjoined from engaging in it in the future, disgorge unlawful profits, provide damages to the plaintiffs and litigation costs, as well as any other necessary relief.