On Thursday, the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit purporting that major companies in the runner peanut industry are participating in anticompetitive activities asked the Eastern District of Virginia to give preliminary approval to a $45 million settlement with one of the defendants, Golden Peanut Company LLC. This settlement follows a $57 million settlement with defendants Olam Peanut Shelling Company Inc. and Birdsong Corporation.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, D&M Farms, Mark Hasty, Dustin Land, Lonnie Gilbert, Daniel Howell and Rocky Creek Farm, are peanut farmers who sell to the defendants for processing. They purported that the activities of the large processing companies were harming their businesses and breaching antitrust laws. The plaintiffs, along with defendant Golden Peanut, filed a notice of the settlement to the court on February 24, 2021, which explained that the agreement, which was not yet final, would settle all claims filed against Golden Peanut.
A declaration accompanying the request for preliminary approval from the interim co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs said the parties signed the settlement agreement on March 4. “The settlement negotiations with Golden were at arm’s length and were hard fought at all times,” said attorney Brian D. Clark with Lockridge Grindal Nauen P.L.L.P. After what was reportedly intense, well-informed negotiations over all terms of the settlement, the parties agreed to the $45 million payment from Golden Peanut.
The declaration also said that the settlement with the other two defendants, Olam and Birdsong, totaled $57,750,000.00. The parties asked the court to give final approval to that settlement on March 3, 2021. The first settlement already received preliminary approval from the court in December and will be considered for final approval at a hearing on March 25, 2021.
In early December, the court certified the class of all peanut farmers who are not connected in a business relationship with the defendants. The present motion noted that the court has not yet made appointments for class representatives and counsel relating to the Golden Peanut settlement class, but only the Olam and Birdsong settlement classes and asked the court to do so as part of the preliminary approval.
Birdsong is represented by Kaufman & Canoles, Golden Peanut is represented by Kirkland & Ellis, and Olam is represented by Latham & Watkins. The plaintiffs are represented by Durrette Arkema Gerson & Gill, Lockridge Grindal Nauen P.L.L.P., Freed Kanner London & Millen LLC, and Spector Roseman & Kodroff P.C.