Preliminary Approval Given to Settlement with End-User Plaintiffs in Chicken Antitrust Lawsuit

In an order filed on Monday, Judge Thomas M. Durkin of the Northern District of Illinois certified the class of end-user plaintiffs and gave preliminary approval to settlement agreements among the class and four defendants, Tyson Foods Inc., Fieldale Corporation, Peco Foods Inc., and George’s Inc. 

The class of end-user plaintiffs includes anyone who purchased from a third party “fresh or frozen raw chicken” that indirectly was from one of the defendants between Jan. 1 and July 31, 2019, in one of 25 states. The chicken purchased includes whole cut-up birds or pieces of chicken that are considered white meat, such as breast meat, but cannot be chicken marketed as halal, kosher, free range, or organic. The approved class definition matches the one proposed in the fifth consolidated amended class action complaint specific to that group of plaintiffs.

End-user plaintiffs alleged that because of anticompetitive activity and price-fixing by the defendants, some of the cost paid by companies that purchased chicken directly from the defendants was passed to them and that chicken purchasers in general paid more than was necessary for their chicken throughout the class period. 

The motion for preliminary approval of the settlement was filed by the plaintiffs March 1. Together, the settlements add up to about $104 million, with $99 million coming from the settlement with Tyson. The court determined that this settlement with Tyson, along with the other settlements, fall “within the range of possible approval” and that they will be considered further at a fairness hearing. 

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC were appointed as co-lead counsel for the class. The court said the co-lead counsel should file a motion asking the court to approve a program to notify members of the settlement class and these four settlements, along with any additional settlements reached by that point. The order said that “the Court finds it would be more efficient and economical to defer the notice and claims process until a later time.” The fairness hearing will be scheduled after class notice has been approved and sent. 

Other settlements addressing separate parties in the consolidated lawsuit alleging antitrust activities among chicken processing companies already have been reached, including one between the direct-action plaintiffs and two defendants, Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride, which already has been approved by the court.