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Appeals Court Affirms Verdict in Poultry Suit

by 5m Editor
20 October 2010, at 9:31am

US - A federal appeals court has upheld a $14.5 million judgment against an Arkansas poultry company in a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma poultry farmers.

Business Week reports that a three-judge panel of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver voted unanimously to reject the appeal by O.K. Industries of Fort Smith, which contracts with various broiler growers who raise chickens for the company.

The class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of approximately 300 southeastern Oklahoma poultry growers in 2002 in US District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Muskogee, accused the company of using its economic power as the only poultry buyer in the area to manipulate downward the price it paid them to raise chickens.

A federal jury in 2008 found in favour of the growers and awarded them $21.1 million, an amount that was lowered to $14.5 million by the judge in the case.

Charles B. Goodwin, an attorney for the growers, commented: "We are extremely satisfied to see this legal battle end in a victory for our clients, supporting the jury's determination that O.K. Industries had mistreated Oklahoma farmers."

A method for distributing the settlement proceeds to the growers has not been adopted by the court, he said.

On appeal, O.K. Industries argued that the growers failed to prove the company engaged in unfair practices, that its actions injured consumers or that it had sufficient power to manipulate the market.

The appeal also alleged a lack of evidence to support all theories of liability, that the jury was not instructed on the statute of limitations and that the district court erroneously admitted expert testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The company asked that the jury's verdict be overturned and the case be sent back to district court for a new trial, according to Business Week. The appeals court rejected all those arguments in its ruling last week.