The antitrust class-action lawsuit alleging America’s largest beef packers conspired to fix cattle prices has been dismissed. Federal Judge John R. Tunheim of Minnesota’s U.S. District Court issued his ruling Monday and gave plaintiff’s 90 days to file an amended complaint.
"Because plaintiffs have not pleaded their direct evidence with sufficient detail and because they have not pleaded parallel conduct sufficient to support an inference of a price-fixing conspiracy, the court will grant defendants' motions to dismiss," Judge Tunheim said in the order.
The ranchers and consumers who brought the case “do little to allege how the individual defendants acted,” instead “arguing that the market did this or that,” Judge Tunheim wrote. That made it impossible to evaluate the “alternative economic explanations” offered by the meatpackers, he said.
Multiple lawsuits were filed in 2019 against the beef packers alleging price fixing between 2015 and the present. The original suit was filed by R-CALF USA and four ranchers in April of 2019 against Tyson Foods, Inc., JBS S.A., National Beef Packing Company, LLC, and Cargill Inc., alleging the companies conspired to depress the price of fed cattle they purchased, thereby inflating their own margins and profits.
Three days later in a Minneapolis court the same packing companies were accused in a consumer class action lawsuit of a similar price-fixing scheme. That suit claimed the packers forced consumers to pay inflated prices for beef products. In May a third lawsuit was filed by a cattle futures trader who claimed he “suffered damages from a manipulated live cattle futures and options market.” The suit alleged, “Plaintiff suffered monetary losses by transacting in live cattle futures and options at artificial prices directly resulting from packing defendants’ conduct, including their suppression of fed cattle prices.”
In July 2019, a judge ruled the three lawsuits could be consolidated into one.
The lawsuits alleged beef packers colluded to suppress beef prices in part by agreeing to reduce slaughter volumes and curtailing purchases. The plaintiffs said the collusion caused an unprecedented drop in fed cattle prices in 2015.
Other price suppression tactics the meatpackers allegedly have deployed include importing large numbers of foreign cattle, purchasing cattle during a narrow 30- to 60-minute window on Fridays and slashing slaughter volumes.
Plaintiffs’ lawsuit provided testimony of two confidential witnesses – one a packing company employee and the other a feedlot manager. But in dismissing the case, Judge Tunheim said the confidential witnesses and their claims were not sufficiently detailed.
"Because of the lack of detail regarding the firms by which the confidential witnesses were employed, plaintiffs do not adequately explain their jobs and how their interactions in those jobs would lead to them acquiring the knowledge they allegedly possess," Tunheim wrote. "In all, the lack of detail about the confidential witnesses, combined with the mismatched nature of what they allege, lead the court to conclude their claims are not sufficiently detailed to survive defendants' motion to dismiss."