Attys For Pork Buyers Get $34M In Fees From Price-Fix Deals

Source: Law 360

A Minnesota federal judge approved nearly $34 million in fees on Friday for the attorneys who helped direct buyers of pork score more than $100 million from settlements with Smithfield Foods Co. and JBS USA Food Co. — giants in the meat industry that they accused of scheming to inflate pork prices.

U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim greenlit the fee bid, and an additional $2.5 million in expenses, noting the complexity of the cases and the success of their outcomes.

In addition to highlighting the millions of dollars gained for the direct purchasers, the judge pointed to “the mediation, all involving complex issues of fact and law that were zealously litigated since 2018; and the risks faced throughout the litigation, which existed from the outset and will continue beyond settlement given that there remain six defendants.”

Generally, the proposed class actions filed in 2018 allege that Smithfield and other large producers, with help from an industry data compiler also named as a defendant, manipulated the price of pork by restricting supply as early as 2009. They managed to do this through coordinating public statements and sharing price information, the suits claim.

In January 2021, direct buyers of pork won preliminary approval of a $24.5 million settlement with JBS to resolve price-fixing allegations.

In June 2021, Smithfield announced a proposed ​​$83 million settlement to resolve antitrust claims from direct purchasers. The deal earned preliminary approval in August 2021 and final approval in January, but the settlement was reduced to $77.3 million, court records show.

Both deals obligated the pork producers to cooperate with the plaintiffs in their investigation of defendants like Clemens, Hormel and Tyson, who have not yet settled.

They make up the collective settlement fund of more than $101.9 million from which the attorneys’ fees approved Friday will be pulled.

In March 2021, JBS agreed to a $20 million deal with consumer indirect purchasers in the suit.

In April 2021, JBS announced a deal with commercial and institutional indirect buyers in a $12.75 million deal, which court records show Judge Tunheim preliminarily approved in May 2021.

In April of this year, the judge preliminarily signed off on a $42 million settlement struck between a group of restaurants and Smithfield Foods in the multidistrict litigation.

The direct purchasers are represented by W. Joseph Bruckner, Brian D. Clark, Arielle S. Wagner and Joseph C. Bourne of Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP, and Clifford H. Pearson, Daniel L. Warshaw, Thomas J. Nolan, Bobby Pouya, Michael H. Pearson, Bruce L. Simon and Melissa S. Weiner of Pearson Simon & Warshaw LLP.

Smithfield is represented by Larkin Hoffman Daly & Lindgren Ltd. and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

JBS is represented by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP and Spencer Fane LLP.

The case is In re: Pork Antitrust Litigation, case number 0:18-cv-01776, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

–Additional reporting by Bryan Koenig, Daniel Wilson and Matthew Perlman. Editing by Kristen Becker.

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