The consumers leading antitrust litigation over an alleged industrywide scheme to fix broiler chicken prices won final approval from a federal judge in Chicago for their $181 million class action settlement with Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, and other poultry processors, reported Bloomberg.
Judge Thomas M. Durkin signed off late Monday on six agreements resolving “indirect purchaser” claims in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, though he held off ruling on a $60 million fee request by counsel for the consumers.
The deal includes a $99 million agreement with Tyson, a $76 million pact with Pilgrim’s, and four settlements with smaller poultry processors worth a combined $6 million. Durkin called it “fair, reasonable, and adequate” in light of the costs and risks of additional litigation.
“While damages in this case are estimated to be in the billions, the risks of non-recovery have been significant,” the judge wrote. “The court’s 92-page decision denying the motions to dismiss was a relatively close call,” and success going forward “is no guarantee,” he added.
The ruling comes three days after a group of 10 current and former chicken executives—including two ex-CEOs of Pilgrim’s—forced a mistrial of criminal antitrust charges stemming from the alleged price-fixing scheme.
It also follows about three weeks after Durkin awarded $55 million in legal fees to counsel for the chicken wholesalers leading another part of the sprawling civil case. The wholesalers settlements to date are worth $170 million.
The consolidated proposed class actions, which began in 2016, are part of a wave of cartel cases involving livestock and protein, including beef, turkey, pork, tuna, salmon, and eggs.
The broiler chicken industry has been particularly hard hit. Along with the main civil case and the criminal charges, top poultry processors and executives face claims they conspired to drive down pay for chicken farmers and their largely immigrant workforce.