Northern District Of Illinois Terminates Claims Against Bank In Antitrust Suit
06/22/2021On June 1, 2021, Judge Thomas Durkin of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a complaint alleging that a bank conspired with other defendants in the poultry industry in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. In re Broilers Chicken Antitrust Litig., 16-8637 (N.D. Ill. June 1, 2021).
The Court had previously denied a motion to dismiss in a prior case where the complaint alleged that Agristats, a poultry data aggregator, had acted as a co-conspirator by serving as a conduit of information between the defendant poultry producers. In subsequent discovery, plaintiffs discovered email communications where a director at the defendant bank, which did business with a number of poultry producers, stated that he had relayed communications between two of the defendant poultry producers. Plaintiffs then sued the bank, alleging that it was operating as a conduit in a manner analogous to Agristats and arguing in opposition to the motion to dismiss that the Court’s prior holding should apply.
The Court granted the motion to dismiss. While the Court recognized that the director’s communications “raised the specter of [the bank] serving as a communications conduit akin to Agristats,” the Court held that the complaint’s allegations — which focused on just three emails, which were “entirely ambiguous as to the subject matter of the communications they reference” — were insufficient to plausibly allege the bank’s participation in an extensive conspiracy. Contrasting the allegations against the bank to those at issue in the prior Agristats decision, the Court determined that the allegations regarding the bank’s involvement were too attenuated, and, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), further noted that the plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement and required more than the mere possibility that the director’s communications related to the alleged conspiracy.
Accordingly, the Court dismissed the complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim, but granted plaintiffs room to amend their complaint with additional facts to support their claim. In anticipation of that possibility, the Court also rejected the bank’s arguments that service providers should not face antitrust liability for colluding with their clients.
The decision reinforces the Supreme Court’s decision in Iqbal and illustrates a court emphasizing the importance of clearly alleging plausible and particularized claims when pursuing possible antitrust violations.