Judge Grants Class Certification for Peanut Farmers in Antitrust Suit

A group of farms and farmers were granted class certification on Wednesday by Judge Raymond Jackson of the Eastern District of Virginia in a suit accusing major peanut shelling companies, including Birdsong Corporation, Golden Peanut Company, and Olam Peanut Shelling Company, of participating in anti-competitive activities. 

According to the court’s opinion, and the amended document filed the same day, the initial complaint was filed in September 2019 by peanut farmers who sell runner peanuts, known as shellers, to the defendants for shelling, processing, and selling. They claimed that the prices have stayed “remarkably flat” since 2014, despite changes in supply and value. The defendants reportedly have an 80 to 90 percent market share in the industry. 

The class which was approved by the court will include any farmers who have sold peanuts to the defendants since the beginning of 2014, specifically in the southern and southeastern United States, excluding any who are employees of the defendants or have another business connection to them. 

Judge Jackson ruled that the matter did meet the requirements for a class certification; the class is almost 12,000 farmers satisfying the numerosity requirement, the individuals in the class would allege the same antitrust violations, and the named plaintiffs have “adequate representation” to argue the case for the entire class. 

The defendants have reportedly not challenged emails and documents provided in discovery, but have argued that they do not show violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act, but rather are lawful business relationships. In response, the judge said “while this conclusion remains to be seen, the underlying facts … are not in dispute and will be accepted as true.” The order said the plaintiffs have submitted “a myriad of common evidence” showing that the defendants discussed competitors’ prices “in a manner that can be perceived as a means to collude,” in addition to expert analysis. The Order also notes that the defendants “have not provided enough evidence to undermine or negate the Court’s reliance” on the documents. 

Birdsong is represented by Kaufman & Canoles; Golden Peanut Company is represented by Kirkland & Ellis; and Olam is represented by Latham & Watkins. The plaintiffs are represented by Durrette Arkema Gerson & Gill; Lockridge Grindal Nauen P.L.L.P., Freed Kanner London & Millen LLC; and Spector Roseman & Kodroff, P.C