WASHINGTON, April 29, 2015 – Without comment, the Supreme Court of the U.S. this week declined to hear an appeal by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and several member cooperatives of a lower court’s decision to grant “class action” status for a suit challenging its herd retirement program. By denying certiorari for the NMPF appeal, the high court effectively allows the case to proceed in U.S. District Court for northern California, where an “animal rights,” anti-meat group inspired a suit that was filed on behalf of several consumers in September 2011.
Attorneys with a firm solicited by Compassion Over Killing allege that NMPF’s Cooperatives Working Together scheme, which paid dairy farmers to slaughter excess milking cows, stifled competition and inflated milk prices. They assert that NMPF, Dairy Farmers of America, Land O’Lakes, Dairylea and Agri-Mark conspired to slaughter more than 500,000 cows under the CWT program, thus reducing milk supplies and increasing farmers’ profits by $9.5 billion.
District Judge Jeffrey S. White, in refusing the co-ops’ motion to dismiss the suit, rejected their argument that CWT fell under the 70-year-old Capper-Volstead Act, an antitrust law that allows collective action by farmers and grants USDA exclusive jurisdiction over “undue price enhancement” allegations. White subsequently set out a timetable for testimony by expert witnesses and motions that would culminate in a jury trial as late as November 2015.
The complaint, filed by the Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro law firm, does not allege violations of the principal federal antitrust laws, but instead claims that the co-ops’ conduct contravened several state consumer protection or fair trade statutes. Citing estimates by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), the complaint said that the CWT efforts “resulted in over $9.5 billion of unfairly and illegally obtained profits” in what it called “an illegal price-fixing scheme.”
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