United States Seeks Stay in Civil Chicken Antitrust Lawsuit While Criminal Proceedings advance

On Monday, the United States, an intervenor in the consolidated antitrust lawsuit regarding the broiler chicken industry, asked the Northern District of Illinois for a limited deposition stay, claiming that depositions in the matter could interfere with an ongoing grand-jury investigation. 

The intervenor asked for the brief accompanying the motion to be submitted ex parte, “because it contains grand-jury information.” The United States also asked to file a redacted brief under seal, which would include highly confidential materials, and a separate public version available on the docket.

In the brief, the United States argued that the court should approve its motion because “public interest in the criminal matter proceeding without interference outweighs any prejudice to the plaintiffs arising from the delay.” The filing said that the court would need to balance interests of public and litigants, listed various factors that the court could consider, and argued that the factors “weigh in favor” of the stay.

Ten chicken companies executives have been criminally charged as part of the grand-jury investigation, which is being heard in the District of Colorado, each of which pleaded not guilty.  Pilgrim’s Pride pleaded guilty to the allegations against it and paid a fine of $107 million. The grand jury investigation previously asked to use discovery from the consolidated civil lawsuit in its criminal investigation, which neither party opposed.

Many of the chicken companies and classes of plaintiffs have reached settlements, which the court has given preliminary approval in the civil lawsuit. A stay in the deposition could stretch the end of the matter further.

The United States is represented by the Department of Justice. A trial in the criminal lawsuit was previously scheduled for August 2, 2021, but has been delayed by a general order from the Court due to the COVID-19 pandemic.