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Dairy Farmers Milk Class Certification In Antitrust Suit

Posted  September 20, 2010

A class of more than 4,500 dairy farmers spread across 11 southeastern states in two geographic markets has been certified by Judge J. Ronnie Greer of the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in a case alleging a conspiracy to monopolize the production, marketing and processing of milk.

The dairy farmers allege multiple claims of antitrust conspiracy against Dean Foods Company (the nation’s largest dairy processor), National Dairy Holdings, L.P., Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., and other defendants.

The class is divided into two subclasses.  One is comprised of roughly 3,000 farmers who are members of the Dairy Farmers of America and the other consists of independent and cooperative dairy farmers.  All class members sold grade A milk to the defendants from January 1, 2001, to the present.

In opposing class certification, the defendants argued that the two subclasses have a “fundamental and irremediable conflict of interest” because the Dairy Farmers Association subclass members benefited from the alleged unlawful behavior at the expense of the independent farmers.  While Judge Greer found this aspect of the case “troubling,” he granted certification because the defendants failed to provide any testimony supporting their argument, rendering it “somewhat hypothetical.”  Judge Greer noted, however, that he may decertify or modify the class if evidence supporting the defendants’ argument can be established.

Judge Greer rejected class certification for a breach of contract claim brought on behalf of farmer-members of the Dairy Farmers Association because the claim necessarily would require each class member to individually demonstrate membership in the association at the time of the alleged breach, making the contract claim “not susceptible to class action treatment.”

Tagged in: Monopolization,