DOJ seeks stay in broiler chicken class action, citing grand jury probe

24 June 2019 00:00

Federal prosecutors have asked a court to stay civil litigation accusing Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride and other chicken suppliers of price-fixing because of a criminal antitrust investigation.

In a filing Friday in Illinois federal court, Justice Department prosecutors asked a federal judge to stay the civil case for six months so as not to interfere with a grand jury investigation.

“The government has a significant interest in ensuring the integrity of the grand jury’s investigation and, if charges are filed, minimizing the extent to which civil discovery can be used to circumvent criminal discovery,” prosecutors said. “The government is seeking only a 6-month stay with limited scope. Moreover, the government is committed to working expeditiously toward charging decisions.”

Plaintiffs first sued chicken suppliers in 2016, alleging that companies coordinated production cuts to stabilize and increase the prices of broiler chickens.

The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated whether several of the companies, including Tysons, Pilgrim’s and Sanderson Farms, manipulated pricing data submitted to a Georgia agency for use in a chicken-pricing benchmark, known as the Georgia Dock. The SEC closed the investigation in 2017 without taking action.

In April, DOJ prosecutors subpoenaed the plaintiffs in the broiler class action to review the discovery in the litigation.

In a June 19 filing with the court, plaintiffs said the DOJ “investigation appears to be gaining traction, as evidenced by the recent subpoena. In fact — just this week — Defendants canceled at least three scheduled depositions as a direct result of the Department of Justice investigation.”

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