John Deere Sued for Alleged Antitrust Violations over Tractor Repair Monopoly

On Wednesday, Forest River Farms filed a complaint in the Northern District of Illinois – Eastern Division against Deere & Co. for antitrust violations over their supposedly monopolization of the tractor repair and maintenance market.

For decades, the complaint explained, farmers have had the ability to repair and maintain their own tractors, or to bring them to an independent mechanic when needed. However, Deere “deliberately monopolized the market for repair and maintenance services” for products with engine control units (ECUs), the complaint argued. Furthermore, “tractor[s] will not operate unless proprietary John Deere Software ‘approves’ the  newly-installed part.” This software also allegedly prevents farmers from repairing their mechanics at anywhere other than a licensed Deere mechanic, where they are subject to long waits and potential travel fees to fix their machines, per the plaintiff.

Deere also does not allow their dealers to sell the software, and it is not available for use by anyone else. The plaintiffs reasoned that “by making  the Software, for all practical purposes, unavailable, Deere has succeeded in foreclosing competition in the multi-billion dollar Deere Repair Services Market.” In 2018, the plaintiffs claim that Deere promised to release the software to the public by January 2021, yet one year later it is still not available to anyone outside of licensed dealerships.

The plaintiffs explained that “Deere  unlawfully  stifles  competition  by  blocking  independent  repair shops and reducing consumer choice in what would otherwise be a robust and competitive repair aftermarket” through inflating repair prices past competitive levels. Because of the nature of their software, farmers and independent mechanics have “insufficient” tools and knowledge to repair their tractors and open the market for repairing Deere products to “true competition”. Thus, the plaintiffs are suing for violations of the Sherman Act Sections 1 and 2 for conspiracy in restraint of trade, group boycott, unlawful tying agreement, monopolization, monopoly leveraging, attempted monopolization in the alternative, conspiracy to monopolize, declaratory and injunctive relief, promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment.

The plaintiffs are seeking class certification, a judgment that Deere violated Sections 1 & 2 of the Sherman Act, damages, injunctive relief, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.

The plaintiffs are represented by Wexler Boley & Elgersma LLP, Gustafson Gluek PLLC, and Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP.