Answers Filed in Peanut Shelling Antitrust Suit

A case alleging anticompetitive behavior among peanut shelling companies who constitute a large majority of the market continues as defendants filed responses to the plaintiff’s second amended complaint on Friday. The plaintiffs accused three large peanut shelling companies of price-fixing and manipulating price reports for runner peanuts since January 2014. The defendants claimed in their responses that they did not break antitrust laws and the plaintiffs are not entitled to relief. 

The defendants in the case include Birdsong Corporation, represented by Kaufman & Canoles, P.C.; Golden Peanut Company, LLC, represented by Kirkland & Ellis LLP; and Olam Peanut Shelling Company, Inc., represented by Stoel Rives, LLP. 

Golden Peanut claimed it “focused on independently obtaining quality product at a competitive price,” and that the prices it submitted to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were accurate. The company said the plaintiffs receive benefits from increased price transparency and competition since peanut shellers now submit data to the USDA. 

Birdsong Corporation claimed the plaintiffs have not suffered any injury from anticompetitive behavior. “Birdsong has built its business reputation based on integrity and fair dealing with farmers and purchasers of peanuts alike.  Birdsong denied that it engaged in any of the anticompetitive activities alleged in the Complaint.  Birdsong has competed fairly and lawfully for over a century,” the company’s response states. 

Olam Peanut Shelling Company also denied the allegations in its response to the amended complaint and stated that the four-year statute of limitations has passed as the claims were made public more than four years ago. 

In May the court ruled not to dismiss the case, which began in September 2019, saying that although the allegations in the complaint were not sufficient to state a claim it had enough to give “plausible inference of a price fixing conspiracy.” The plaintiffs then filed a second amended complaint to address the issues discussed in the motions to dismiss. 

The plaintiffs are farmers and agriculture companies, including D&M Farms, Mark Hasty, Dustin Land, Rocky Creek Peanut Farms LLC, Daniel Howell, L&K Farms Group LLC, and Lonnie Gilbert. They are represented by Durrette Arkema Gerson & Gill. They allege that prices paid by the peanut shellers have been flat since 2014 despite various supply disruptions. 

“The effect of Defendants’ conspiracy has been devastating to many farmers.  Unlike prior to the conspiracy, there are no longer good price years to balance out the now-common bad years of Runner prices.  This has led numerous farmers to borrow from generations of equity built up in their land, relying on that equity to pay themselves and keep their farms running.  The consequence is smaller farmers being run out of business as they use up the remaining equity in their farms,” the amended complaint stated. 

A jury trial is scheduled in the case in January 2021 before Judge Raymond A. Jackson.