Beef Producers Lodge Joint and Individual Motions to Dismiss in Cattle Antitrust Suit

Last week, defendants Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, National Beef Packing Company and their affiliates filed a joint motion to dismiss the beef price-fixing suit currently pending against them in the District of Minnesota. The redacted, publicly available filing assailed the plaintiffs’ third amended complaint, arguing that the court “should not send this case to costly and time-consuming discovery based on such flimsy allegations.”

The instant motion follows the court’s September decision to dismiss the lawsuit for want of plausibly plead evidence of conspiracy. The plaintiffs, including ranchers, feedlot owners, and ranchers’ organizations, as well as direct and indirect purchasers of beef, amended their complaints in late December. They beefed up allegations by, according to the defendants’ Feb. 18 motion, adding the producers’ estimated quarterly slaughter volumes, and defendant-specific monthly slaughter volumes.

The defendants contend that the operative complaint is no better than the last. They argue that the plaintiffs’ two star witnesses’ testimony falls short of evincing an antitrust conspiracy. Next, they allege that without direct evidence, the plaintiffs resort to “allegations of parallel conduct combined with plus factors,” which the court previously found unavailing because they were reportedly not defendant-specific.

The parallel conduct theory fails, the defendants claim, because the plaintiffs “ignore the obvious alternative explanation for the fall in fed cattle prices.” They explain that a drought led to a limited beef supply, causing a historic peak in price followed by a decline as the cattle supply rebounded. This plausible alternative, the defendants argue, renders the plaintiffs’ contentions implausible. In turn, they ask the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ federal claims with prejudice.

The defendants’ individual motions take aim at the operative complaint from the viewpoint of each independently. For example, National Beef Packing Company claims that the plaintiffs failed to plead any facts that implicate it in such a conspiracy. To the contrary, the redacted filing claims, “the Amended Complaints concede that National Beef did not participate at all in the activities that provide the foundation for Plaintiffs’ claims.”

Tyson is represented by Perkins Coie LLP and Dykema Gossett, PLLC, JBS is represented by Bassford Remele, P.A., McGrath North Mullin & Kratz, PC LLO, Spencer Fane LLP, and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, Cargill is represented by Greene Espel PLLP and Mayer Brown LLP, and National Beef Packing Company is represented by Jones Day