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Proving Anti-Competitive Conduct in the U.S. Courtroom: Economic Issues with the Courts' Opinions in Pickett v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc

Taylor C. Robert
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Taylor C. Robert: Auburn University, Alabama

Journal of Agricultural & Food Industrial Organization, 2006, vol. 4, issue 1, pages 1-29

Abstract: Four articles have been published in this Journal about the historic cattle trial, Pickett v Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., in which Plaintiff cattlemen alleged that Tyson/IBP—the buyer—used captive (contracted) supplies of cattle to manipulate the cash market in violation of the 1921 Packers & Stockyards Act (PSA). The first article gave a Trial's eye view by David Domina who served as co-lead counsel representing Plaintiff cattlemen. Domina's article led to a published comment by Thomas Green who was the lead attorney representing Tyson during the Trial phase of lengthy legal proceedings. Green alleged that Domina's article was "littered with rank speculation and baseless opinion." Domina countered that "proof is not litter, and evidence is not rank speculation" and that Green's commentary was "abusive." The adversarial exchange between Domina and Green was followed by another advocacy article in which William Rosales maintained that Pickett "represents an opportunity for the judiciary to reform the meatpacking industry (and) awaken the (PSA's) intended power to dethrone the economic kings of the meatpacking industry."After a five week Trial in Federal Court, the Jury found Tyson/IBP guilty on all counts and assessed actual damages of $1.28 billion over 2/1994 -10/2002. Justice for Plaintiff cattlemen was short, as the Trial Judge set aside the Jury's verdict—a rare but not unprecedented legal action—and entered summary judgment for Tyson. The Eleventh Appellate Court subsequently sided with the Trial Judge. On March 24, 2006, the United States Supreme Court denied without comment Plaintiff's Petition to rehear the case, thus ending legal activities in Pickett v Tyson and effectively killing similar legal action pending against two other major beef packers, Excel (Cargill) and Swift (ConAgra).This article emphasizes three significant and troubling legal and economic issues from the historic litigation: (1) the Courts' narrow and extreme interpretation of the antitrust rule-of-reason; (2) the Courts' endorsement of a "meeting the competition" defense, and (3) whether the Courts inserted themselves above the Jury as fact-finders in the case, contrary to the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that establishes the Jury as the only fact-finder in civil litigation.In essence Pickett was filed under the Packers and Stockyards Act, tried under Sherman and Clayton antitrust law, and overturned, in part, under the Robinson-Patman Act.

Date: 2006
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