On Thursday, a federal judge in Minneapolis dismissed antitrust lawsuits accusing several U.S. pork companies of conspiring to limit supply in order to inflate prices and their own profits.
Chief Judge John Tunheim said the plaintiffs failed to show “parallel conduct” among the companies, whose combined U.S. market share exceeds 80%. It was suggested the pork companies had conspired beginning in 2009 to fix prices, Reuters reports.
The defendants included Hormel Foods Corp, the JBS USA unit of Brazil’s JBS SA, WH Group Ltd’s Smithfield Foods Inc, and Tyson Foods Inc, among others, as well as data provider Agri Stats Inc. The defendants said the plaintiffs failed to allege any agreement to rig prices, and that supply and capacity actually increased during this time.
Tunheim’s decision covered 13 lawsuits from consumers, “direct” purchasers of pork and “indirect” purchasers, Reuters reports.
The plaintiffs claim the producers manipulated pork prices by publicly touting the need to cut production, thereby signaling to each other that the conspiracy was on, and by sharing price, capacity, sales and demand data via Agri Stats, Reuters reports.
However, the judge found the plaintiffs’ allegations of illegal conduct “sparse and conclusory.” Tunheim said they focused mainly on industry data and vague statements from the public and lacked specific allegations that any producer other than Smithfield lowered pork production.
“It may be true that some of these defendants cut production in the years following 2009. It may also be true that all of these defendants cut production,” he wrote. “The fact that the complaints contain this ambiguity is exactly the problem.”
The dismissal was without prejudice. At least one of the attorneys involved said they would amend their complaints.
The case is In re Pork Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, No. 18-01776.
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