US Supreme Court rejects appeal over chicken suppliers' defense pact

The justices' order was issued without comment
calendar icon 9 January 2024
clock icon 2 minute read

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal targeting an agreement among major US meat suppliers to apportion potential liability for price-fixing claims brought by chicken purchasers Target, Campbell Soup and others, reported Reuters.

The justices' order, issued without comment, left in place a decision by the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in June that blocked the chicken purchasers' pre-trial challenge against the suppliers' “judgment sharing agreement.”

The chicken producers had defended their agreement and urged the Supreme Court not to take up the case at this stage.

An attorney for the chicken purchasers at law firm Boies Schiller Flexner had no immediate comment on Monday.

Representatives from meat suppliers Tyson Foods and Perdue did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Target, Campbell's and the others, including an affiliate of litigation funder Burford Capital, are among companies asserting they’ve paid artificially high prices for chicken products, in violation of US antitrust law.

Their lawsuits are part of coordinated litigation in federal court in Chicago that has involved other claims from consumers, restaurants and other plaintiffs. Other related antitrust cases have been filed against suppliers of turkey, pork and beef.

Plaintiffs in the chicken and other cases have sought tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in alleged damages, and many claims have settled. Damages in antitrust cases are automatically tripled.

More than a dozen defendants in the chicken litigation entered into a defense agreement that spreads out potential monetary liability.

The pact set up a plan for how a "settling plaintiff agrees to reduce the dollar amount collectible from non-settling parties."

Plaintiffs alleged in 2021 that the agreement was unlawful and interfered with private enforcement of antitrust laws.

US District Judge Thomas Durkin in May 2022 rejected the plaintiffs’ challenge to the defence agreement. He ruled that nothing in the agreement “destroys plaintiffs’ entitlement to the full remedies under the law for a trial verdict in their favour.”

Target and the other plaintiffs lost their appeal of Durkin’s order in the 7th Circuit. The appeals panel in a brief order said it had no “jurisdiction” to hear the dispute as litigation was ongoing.

The plaintiffs argued in the Supreme Court that enforcement of the defense agreement should be decided apart from the merits of the claims against the chicken producers.

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