OCM Optimistic Pickett July Verdict will be Reinstated

OCM Optimistic Pickett Jury Verdict will be ReinstatedLincoln ~ The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) expressed optimism the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will uphold the $1.3 billion jury verdict in the Pickett v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc. cattle price manipulation case.  A three judge panel heard oral argument on Friday, December 17, 2004 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Joe Whatley, co-lead trial counsel, argued the case for the Plaintiff Cattlemen.  He told the court the jury’s decision that Tyson manipulated cattle markets for eight years without justification should be upheld.  “The issue is not what the court would have decided, but whether the jury could reasonably have found,” Whatley said.  Whatley is an experienced class action attorney and 11th Circuit appellate lawyer.

The jury found, on February 17, 2004, Tyson manipulated the cattle market from 1994 to 2002 causing nearly $1.3 billion in damages to cattlemen.  Judge Lyle E. Strom overturned the verdict on April 23, 2004.  Strom believed Tyson’s actions were justified by a desire to achieve a reliable and consistent supply of cattle and to “meet the competition” because the other packers used captive supply as well.  Plaintiffs appealed asking the 11th Circuit to reinstate the verdict.

Judges Emmett R. Cox, Ed Carnes, and Richard Mills questioned both sides extensively.  “This is a unique and complex case,” said Judge Mills. 

Judge Carnes forced Tyson’s counsel, Carter Phillips, to admit that if captive supplies are unlawful, then it is no defense to say others are engaging in unlawful behavior too.  “I have this vision of all the packers standing in a circle pointing at each other,” said Carnes.

Carnes also questioned Tyson’s claim that the company could not control when captive cattle were delivered while also claiming they achieved a consistent and reliable supply of cattle with the practice.  “Can you explain this contradiction?” Carnes asked Tyson attorney Carter Phillips. 

Cattlemen attorney Whatley pointed out Tyson’s expert, Michael Hausman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tried to convince the jury that captive supply does not cause lower prices.  “Hausman thought cattle were on feed only two weeks,” said Whatley.  “He did not know anything about the industry.”  Under intense questioning, Tyson attorney Phillips admitted the jury was free to believe Plaintiff’s expert Bob Taylor and disbelieve Tyson’s experts.

“This is probably the most important case in the cattle industry,” said Fred Stokes, OCM Past President who attended the hearing.  “We are optimistic the 11th Circuit will recognize Tyson broke the law and help restore fairness, access and competition to the cattle markets.”

The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) is a multidisciplinary, nonprofit group of farmers, ranchers, academics, attorneys and policy makers dedicated to reclaiming the agricultural marketplace for independent farmers, ranchers and rural communities.  OCM helps lead the Cattlemen’s Competitive Market Project which is a voluntary contribution program funding the effort to increase demand for U.S. cattle and beef in open and competitive markets.

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