Fri, Aug. 26, 2005
Ranchers must pay Tyson’s expenses in cattle case
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A handful of cattlemen, who saw a potential $1 billion verdict in their favor reversed in a price-fixing lawsuit against corporate giant Tyson Fresh Meats, now has to pay the nation’s largest beef packer more than $70,000 in court expenses.
“They’ve thrown our industry into the Tyson meat grinder and said ‘Welcome to serfdom,'” cattleman Mike Callicrate, a plaintiff in the beef lawsuit, said Friday.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously upheld a district court decision ordering five cattlemen and a corporation to pay Tyson, based in Springdale, Ark., expenses totaling $70,198.60 related to the trial held last year in Montgomery. The amount covers expenses such as transportation and office supplies, but does not include attorney fees.
In the Aug. 19 ruling, the appeals court said “this case was not a close and difficult one” and noted that those who filed the suit “lost every aspect of the case and Tyson prevailed on it.”
“Although it took a long time to try, the case was not especially complicated,” the court said.
The lawsuit accused Tyson of using illegal cattle-buying practices to help manipulate beef prices. Tyson countered that it used legitimate business practices that do not subvert the market principles of supply and demand.
Thomas C. Green, Tyson’s lead attorney, said the appeals court decision proves that corporations “have the freedom to make contracts in the agricultural sector.”
“I think the plaintiffs need to get a grip and relax. Their view of the law has always been one-sided and obviously shortsighted,” Green said.
Callicrate said the court developments were “an example of a complete failure of justice. These judges are not looking at the law. They are looking at what benefits big business.”
In a separate ruling last week, the three-judge panel unanimously affirmed a June 2004 ruling by U.S. Senior District Judge Lyle Strom, who threw out a jury’s finding that Tyson used contracts with a select few beef producers to manipulate cattle market prices.
As part of its verdict, the jury recommended that Tyson pay $1.28 billion to a class of cattlemen affected over an 8-year period. But the judge, instead of ruling on the size of the class and amount of damages, found that the cattlemen had failed to show sufficient evidence against Tyson, reversing the verdict.
In their appeal, attorneys for the cattlemen had asked the 11th Circuit to find that the jury based its decision on a reasonable review of the evidence. They said that in another case the 11th Circuit had refused to “second-guess the jury” if its action was reasonable.
But the appeals court disagreed on that argument and, on the matter of costs, said the cattlemen must pay Tyson’s expenses despite the beef packer’s wealth and their “limited financial resources.”
Callicrate said the plaintiffs would request a full-panel review by the 11th Circuit, and if that fails, petition the U.S. Supreme Court.