Allegations of Conspiracy to Limit Crop Production: Ripe for Analysis Under Capper-Volstead

On December 2, 2011, the district court denied a motion to dismiss antitrust conspiracy claims against potato grower cooperatives in several states. In re Fresh and Process Potatoes Antitrust Litigation, United States District Court for the District of Idaho, Case No. 4:10-MD-2186-BLW. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant cooperatives agreed among themselves, through their cooperative structure, to restrict the output of their members by limiting potato planting acreages, paying farmers to destroy existing stocks, and refraining from bringing additional potatoes to market. The alleged purpose of the output-restricting conspiracy was to augment demand among direct purchasers of potatoes, thus driving up prices. The defendant cooperatives moved to dismiss on the ground that the allegations of antitrust conspiracy were immune, pursuant to the federal Capper-Volstead Act of 1922, 7 U.S.C. § 291-292.

In the years following enactment of the Capper-Volstead Act, the United States Supreme Court has held that the Act only provides limited immunity, within its statutory terms. Thus, Capper - Volstead protection extends only to associations of "persons engaged in the production of agricultural products". If a cooperative agreement includes persons other than "producers" - such as "processors" - immunity is forfeited. However, the inquiry may become fact-specific as to the status of producer members who are vertically integrated into various levels within the distributive stream. When does a "producer" mutate into a non-exempt "processor"?

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