Potato growers, groups maintain innocence in antitrust cases

04/25/2013 01:45:00 PM
Coral Beach

Chief U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Idaho denied dismissal on those grounds in December 2011. The judge’s order states Capper-Volstead does not “immunize cooperatives and their members who seek to collectively implement production controls in order to raise prices.”

Plaintiffs in the consolidated cases want a jury trial, as does AWG, but Winmill has not yet set a trial date. Winmill has, however, set a long-term schedule for pre-trial activities. Both sides have until March 2014 to complete the discovery phase, which the judge’s order said is crucial to determining whether Capper-Volstead applies.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill, IdahoWinmill

r">“Resolving these allegations … requires a fact intensive inquiry which should be completed by the court only after proper discovery has been conducted,” Winmill wrote.

“… the Supreme Court has made clear that the exemption only applies if all participants in the organization qualify under the Act.”

It is unknown whether the new AWG case will be consolidated into the cases pending before Winmill. Attorneys representing AWG did not respond to questions about why the company filed a separate suit instead of joining the class action case already in progress.

Common complaints

AWG’s lawsuit is very similar to the 2010 cases in that it repeatedly names Albert Wada of Wada Farms. The cases detail his work in the mid-2000s to bring together potato growers under Capper-Volstead to agree on prices and practices to stabilize their market. Wada was one of 23 founders of United Fresh Potato Growers of Idaho.

Other individuals who AWG alleges helped Wada form what became the United Potato Growers of Idaho and who are named as defendants are Michael Cranney, owner of Cranney Farms, Oakley, Idaho; Lance Funk, chief executive officer for Funk Farms, American Falls, Idaho; and Ronald D. Offutt Jr., chairman and founder of R.D. Offutt Co., Fargo, N.D.

A statement by Wada Farms on April 24 said the company operates within the law.

“Since 1943 our goal has always been to put quality potatoes on the American table with integrity and respect,” the statement said. “We have consistently worked within the boundaries of the law to keep farming healthy and Americans happy for 70 years. That’s a real success story, and one we always look forward to telling.”

Individuals named as defendants in the consolidated cases, include Albert Wada, Lance Funk, Michael Cranney and Kim Wahlen. Companies named as defendants include Larsen Farms, Michael Cranney Farms, Rigby Produce, Snake River Farms, Cornelison Farms, Driscoll Potatoes Inc., KCW Farms Inc., Raybould Brothers Farms and Kim Whalen Farms, all in Idaho.



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