Northern District Of Illinois Certifies Class In Alleged Broiler Price Fixing Conspiracy
06/07/2022On May 27, 2022, in In Re Broiler Chicken Antirust Litigation, No. 16 C 8637, 2022 WL 1720468, at *10 (N.D. Ill. May 27, 2022), Judge Thomas M. Durkin of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois certified classes of direct purchasers, indirect purchasers, and end-user consumers (together, “plaintiffs”) in a Sherman Act lawsuit alleging that major broiler chicken producers conspired to limit chicken production to boost prices.
To obtain certification under Rule 23(a), plaintiffs were required to show that the proposed class is sufficiently numerous (“numerosity”), that there are common questions of law or fact among the class (“commonality”), that the claims or defenses of the proposed class representatives are typical of the proposed class (“typicality”), and that the proposed class representatives will adequately protect the interests of the class (“adequacy”).
The Court certified all three classes. The Court found that numerosity and commonality requirements were easily met for each proposed class. Defendants argued that plaintiffs could not meet the typicality requirement of Rule 23(a) because some of the proposed class representatives had smaller market shares than others. According to defendants, these differences created bargaining and purchase volume disparities, which meant that the class representatives’ claims were not typical of the class. The Court rejected defendants’ argument, holding that bargaining power and purchase volume were not relevant to plaintiffs’ claims as plaintiffs alleged market-wide effects and did not allege restrictions regarding bargained negotiations.
Defendants next challenged the adequacy of the indirect purchasers’ class representative, arguing that the proposed representative did not engage in intrastate commerce when purchasing the broilers, as required to represent the West Virginia indirect purchaser class under West Virginia law. The Court rejected that argument, holding that the West Virginia antitrust statute does not require intrastate commerce. Instead, the Court held that purchasing broilers from outside of West Virginia for shipment into the state satisfied the West Virginia statute.
The Court also found that common questions of law or fact predominated over individual issues, as required under Rule 23(b). The Court found that the case presented two common questions: (1) whether defendants engaged in a conspiracy to decrease chicken production to increase the price of chicken; and (2) if so, whether the conspiracy resulted in an injury to plaintiffs. Defendants primarily focused on the second question: whether causation and injury could be demonstrated in a common fashion. Defendants’ opposition “focus[ed] entirely” on whether plaintiffs’ expert opinions were reliable, but the Court rejected defendants’ attacks on plaintiffs’ experts.
For example, defendants argued that under the Supreme Court’s Comcast decision, plaintiffs’ experts were required to isolate the injury resulting from the alleged wrong from other factors. However, the Court found that Comcast does not impose a requirement to “disaggregate lawful and unlawful conduct.” The Court held that Comcast merely requires that an expert’s theory of harm match plaintiffs’ claims.