Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Antitrust Claims From Poultry Workers

On Wednesday, Judge Stephanie Gallagher of the Maryland District Court denied four motions to dismiss filed by poultry companies in a class-action antitrust lawsuit, ruling that the Second Amended Complaint filed by employees who worked with the poultry companies should continue to be heard in the court.

The employees filed an opposition to all four of the motions, which the defendants later replied to. The plaintiffs, including five named individuals and a putative class of former and current employees at poultry processing companies, argued in their second amended complaint that the defendants violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act by engaging in a conspiracy to “fix and depress poultry workers’ compensation” and exchanged data about the compensation illegally. –

Defendants in the lawsuit include fourteen poultry processing companies and two data consulting companies. Three of the motions to dismiss were filed on December 17 by separate defendants and one was filed on the same day by multiple defendants. This motion claimed that as the named plaintiffs were all hourly employees, they did not have standing to represent salaried workers. It also mentioned that they were all employees at chicken processing plants, but the defendants include turkey processing plants as well. The three additional dismissal motions claimed that the complaint did not include sufficient allegations that the companies were each involved in the conspiracy.

Judge Gallagher noted that the three defendants who claimed there were not sufficient allegations against them, Sanderson Farms, Mountaire Farms, and Jennie-OTurkey, were among those which the complaint claimed had “secret meetings” which were “fraudulently concealed, or subscribed to Agri Stats in addition to attending the meetings. Because of this, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs could continue to seek recovery against these defendants. The memorandum explained that the allegations in the amended complaint are sufficient at this stage in the lawsuit. 

Reportedly, the initial complaint listed some of the companies as co-conspirators rather than defendants, which the court determined was insufficient, however, the second amended complaint listed them as defendants and resolved that issue, according to the ruling. The three defendants also continued their allegations that the complaint had not sufficiently solved this issue. 

Responding to the remaining defendants’ argument that the small group of named plaintiffs could not represent the larger class they are seeking, the court ruled that they had standing and that the defendants could later challenge the “Plaintiffs’ ability to satisfy the commonality, typicality, and predominance requirements for class certification.” The opinion reported that the court determined the plaintiffs had sufficiently pled that there is a single poultry labor market that applies to salaried and hourly employees and turkey and chicken employees.