Judge Denies Dismissal of Turkey Antitrust Complaint

Northern District of Illinois Judge, Virginia M. Kendall, filed an Opinion and Order on Monday denying a joint Motion to Dismiss in a putative class action lawsuit alleging antitrust in the turkey industry; the suit was filed by turkey purchasers including Olean Wholesale Grocery Cooperative, Inc., and John Gross And Company, Inc. 

The plaintiffs alleged in their complaint filed in late 2019 that the defendants conspired and exchanged information, which caused the plaintiffs to pay higher prices for turkey. The alleged antitrust activity began in 2010 when the turkey industry had upward price movements with no explanation, followed by a price increase. They claimed that turkey direct purchasers were harmed by the increased price of turkey. 

The plaintiffs reportedly alleged that the turkey industry is susceptible to information exchanges, which could cause anti-competitive behaviors, including a price-based competition in the market, inelastic demand, and a trend of price uniformity. 

The order did grant a motion to dismiss filed by Kraft; the company claimed it is not a turkey producer, but a turkey purchaser and was not involved in the conspiracy. The order denied some other individual motions for dismissal. The defendants, including turkey processing companies and Agri Stats, Inc., which provides price information within the meat processing and agriculture industries, claimed that the complaint failed to state a claim.  

The order said that Agri Stats’s reports did not connect data to specific producers, but that it was “sufficiently detailed” to allow the turkey producers to infer which companies the data referred to, including the number of facilities a company has. The data reports included profits, prices, and production levels. The reports were marketed to the turkey producers as information which could improve profitability for the turkey producers and were not made available to buyers like the plaintiffs. 

The order discussed the various claims in the complaint and did dismiss the plaintiffs’ per se allegation saying that it was not plausible, however, the judge said the defendants did not meet the burden to dismiss claims based on the statute of limitations, market definition, anti-competitive effects, and allegations of agreement. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Lockridge Grindal Nauen P.L.L.P, Pearson Simon & Warshaw, and Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro.