The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Lynn Winmill Chief U.S. District Court Judge
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
THIS DOCUMENT RELATES TO: ALL ACTIONS
The Court has before it several pending motions (Dkts. 72, 73, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 82, 85, 88, 120 and 122). The Court heard oral argument on the motions on June 20, 2011,*fn1 and now issues the following memorandum decision and order.
Plaintiffs are a company who claims to have purchased potatoes directly from one or more of the defendants, and a series of persons or entities who allege they have indirectly purchased potatoes from one or more of the defendants. The former is referred to as direct purchaser plaintiffs and the latter as indirect purchaser plaintiffs.*fn2 All plaintiffs contend that defendants illegally agreed to reduce the supply of potatoes in order to raise prices. Plaintiffs assert that the alleged scheme started when potato growers in Idaho formed a cooperative called United Potato Growers of Idaho ("UPGI"). The Idaho potato growers, along with potato farmers in several other states, then established United Potato Growers of America ("UPGA") as an umbrella cooperative.
Plaintiffs assert that the cooperatives were created for the purpose of increasing the price of potatoes through supply management. They further allege that defendants implemented their plan by agreeing to limit potato planting acreages, and by paying farmers to either destroy existing stocks or refrain from growing additional potatoes in order to reduce the overall number of potatoes available for sale to direct purchasers. Plaintiffs contend that defendants' supply reduction program caused potato prices to be fixed, raised, maintained, and/or stabilized. This, it is argued, violated the antitrust laws.
Defendants filed motions to dismiss on several grounds. Some of their arguments apply to all defendants (or large groups of defendants), while some are specific to individual defendants. After laying out the general legal standard for motions to dismiss, the Court will address motions that apply to each large groups of defendants, and then address individual defendant motions.*fn3
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, . . ." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "does not need detailed factual allegations," it must set forth "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'" Id. at 557.
In a more recent case, the Supreme Court identified two "working principles" that underlie Twombly. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Id. "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 1950. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.
A dismissal without leave to amend is improper unless it is beyond doubt that the complaint "could not be saved by any amendment." Harris v. Amgen, Inc., 573 F.3d 728, 737 (9th Cir. 2009) (issued two months after Iqbal).*fn4 The Ninth Circuit has held that "in dismissals for failure to state a claim, a district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts." Cook, Perkiss & Liehe, Inc. v. N. Cal. Collection Serv., Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990). The issue is not whether plaintiff will prevail but whether he "is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims."
These familiar principles guide the Court's analysis of any 12(b)(6) motion, but they bear repeating here. The Court will consider the Supreme Court's landmark decision, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), in more detail later, along with Ninth Circuit authority interpreting that decision. Twombly is of particular importance here -- not only because it announced the plausibility standard in the first place, but because it did so in the context of a Sherman Act § 1 claim.
Plaintiffs allege that defendants violated § 1 of the Sherman Act, which prohibits "any contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce." 15 U.S.C. § 1. To state a claim under § 1, plaintiffs must plead facts that plausibly suggest "(1) an agreement or conspiracy among two or more persons or distinct business entities, (2) by which the persons or entities intend to harm or restrain competition, and (3) which actually injures competition." Les Shockley Racing, Inc. v. Nat'l Hot Rod Ass'n, 884 F.2d 504, 507 (9th Cir. 1989). Additionally, for each individual defendant, plaintiffs must allege that that defendant had "'a conscious commitment to a common scheme designed to achieve an unlawful object.'" Monsanto Co. v. Spray-Rite Corp., 465 U.S. 752, 764 (1984) (citation omitted).
Defendants' motions to dismiss fall into four basic categories. First, a large group of defendants assert that the Capper-Volstead Act immunizes them from Sherman Act liability. Second, these defendants, along with several others, argue that plaintiffs have failed to plausibly allege that each individual defendant joined the conspiracy. Third, several defendants argue that the indirect-purchaser plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed based on standing and preemption doctrines. Fourth, defendant United Potato Growers of Canada ("UPGC") asserts unique arguments for dismissal based upon, among other things, the act of state doctrine.
1. MOTIONS TO DISMISS BASED ON THE CAPPER-VOLSTEAD ACT
A. The Capper-Volstead Act and Related Statutes Congress enacted the Capper-Volstead Act in the early 1900's. It provides agricultural cooperatives with a limited exemption from antitrust laws. It states that:
Persons engaged in the production of agricultural products as farmers, planters, ranchmen, dairymen, nut or fruit growers may act together in associations, corporate or otherwise, with or without capital stock, in collectively processing, preparing for market, handling, and marketing in interstate and foreign commerce, such products of persons so engaged. Such associations may have marketing agencies in common; and such associations and their members may make the necessary contracts and agreements to effect such purposes: Provided, however, That such associations are operated for the mutual benefit of the members thereof . . . . 7 U.S.C. § 291. The Capper-Volstead Act clarified and expanded the antitrust exemption for cooperatives found in Section 6 of the Clayton Act, which provided that:
Nothing contained in the antitrust laws shall be construed to forbid the existence and operation of labor, agricultural or horticultural organizations instituted for the purposes of mutual help . . . or forbid or restrain individual members of such organizations from lawfully carrying out the legitimate objects thereof; nor shall such organizations, or the members thereof, be held or construed to be illegal combinations or conspiracies in restraint of trade under the antitrust laws. 15 U.S.C. § 17.
Congress had enacted Section 6 of the Clayton Act to counter the possibility that the Sherman Act's prohibition against combinations in restraint of trade would be applied to imperil the development of cooperative endeavors such as unions. Case-Swayne Co. v. Sunkist Growers, Inc., 389 U.S. 384, 390-91 (1967). But Section 6 of the Clayton Act "shows no more than a purpose to allow farmers to act together in cooperative associations without the associations as such being held or construed to be illegal combinations or conspiracies in restraint of trade, under the antitrust laws, as they otherwise might have been." Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Ass'n v. U.S., 362 U.S. 458, 465 (1960) (Internal quotations omitted). Thus, "a group of farmers acting together as a single entity in an association cannot be restrained from lawfully carrying out the legitimate objects thereof, but . . . it [does not] give such an entity full freedom to engage in predatory trade practices at will." Id. (Internal quotations omitted).
With respect to the Capper-Volstead Act, the Supreme Court has recognized that it and its legislative history "'indicate[ ] a purpose to make it possible for farmer-producers to organize together, set association policy, fix prices at which their cooperative will sell their produce, and otherwise carry on like a business corporation without thereby violating the antitrust laws.'" In re Mushroom Direct Purchaser Antitrust Litigation, 621 F. Supp. 2d 274, 283 (E.D. Pa., 2009) (citing Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers, 362 U.S. 458, 466 (1960). It provides "that among the legitimate objects of farmer organizations [are] collectively processing, preparing for market, handling, and marketing products through common marketing agencies and the making of necessary contracts and agreements to effect such purposes." Id. (Internal quotations omitted). Thus, the general philosophy of Section 6 of the Clayton Act and the Capper-Volstead Act is simply that, through agricultural cooperatives acting as entities, individual farmers should be given the same unified competitive advantage and responsibility available to businessmen acting through corporations as entities. Id.
As explained below, the Court will deny the motions to dismiss to the extent they are based on the Capper-Volstead Act because questions of fact remain as to whether the Act applies in this case. However, the Court recognizes that the parties fully briefed and argued areas of law where case law is scant, and where there are no disputed issues of fact in this case. Under these circumstances, the Court believes it prudent to address these areas of law because leaving them unresolved would likely cause the parties to incur unnecessary expense going forward.*fn5 If, as the case progresses, disputed issues of fact appear where there were none today, or if significant new decisions are issued, a motion for reconsideration may be appropriate.
(1). Questions of Fact Remain about Whether the Capper-Volstead Act Applies
As noted above, the Capper-Volstead Act exempts certain agricultural cooperatives from antitrust liability. However, the Supreme Court has made clear that the exemption only applies if all participants in the organization qualify under the Act. Questions of fact prevent the Court from making a final determination on this question at this time.
In their complaint,*fn6 Plaintiffs contend that the Capper-Volstead exemption does not apply because Defendants conspired with non-members, ineligible members, and non-producers. Plaintiff's contention is based upon the Supreme Court's decisions in Case-Swayne Co. v. Sunkist Growers, Inc., 389 U.S. 384 (1967) and National Broiler Marketing Ass'n v. United States, 436 U.S. 816 (1978).
In Sunkist, the Court concluded that Congress did not intend to allow organizations with nonproducer interests to avail themselves of the Capper-Volstead exemption. Sunkist, 389 U.S. at 395-96. In that case, the structure of the Sunkist system included local producers organized into associations operating packing houses, with those houses organized into exchanges. Id. at 386. Although eighty-five percent of the local associations were exclusively made up of fruit growers, the remaining members were private, for-profit packing houses. Id.
The packers entered into contracts with producers where they would handle each grower's fruit at cost, plus a fixed surcharge. Id. The Supreme Court explained that the exemption should be limited to only actual producers of agricultural products, and not those involved in the processing of those raw commodities into other products. Id. at 393. The Supreme Court concluded that Sunkist could not avail itself of the Capper-Volstead exemption because it included nonproducer interests. Id. The court noted that the right of agricultural producers to unite under the Capper-Volstead Act "cannot be deemed to authorize any combination or conspiracy with other persons in restraint of trade that these producers may see fit to devise." Id. at 395 (Internal citation omitted).
The holding in Sunkist was reaffirmed in National Broiler Marketing Ass'n v. United States, 436 U.S. 816 (1978). There, the Supreme Court concluded that in order for a defendant to be exempt from antitrust liability pursuant to Capper-Volstead, the defendant must establish that both itself, and all entities with which it conspired, qualify under the Act. National Broiler, 436 U.S. at 822-23. "It is not enough that a typical member qualify, or even that most of [the] members qualify." Id.
Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that the cooperatives involve numerous vertically integrated members who perform packing and processing functions for themselves and other growers of potatoes. The majority opinions in Sunkist and National Broiler do not provide a clear indication whether such integrated agribusiness would be a disqualified participant in an association otherwise protected by Capper-Volstead. Indeed, the majority in National Broiler expressly chose not to address the question. However, the dissenting and concurring opinions in that decision provide something of a roadmap to the answer to that question.
The dissent in National Broiler suggested that expanding the exemption to include integrated agribusiness is necessary because the nature of agriculture has changed dramatically since the Capper-Volstead Act was adopted. Id. Justice Brennan's concurring opinion explained why that argument fails. Justice Brennan noted that the dissent "recognizes that integrated . . . producers do not neatly fit the limitation Congress signified by the phrase 'as farmers,' but reads that limitation out of the Act in order to give effect to what it perceives as Congress' desire to aid the agricultural industry generally because of the uncertainty of profits in that industry caused by the combination of weather, fluctuations in demand, and perishability of the product." National Broiler, 436 U.S. at 834 (Brennan, J., concurring). He then explained that such a drastic restructuring of the statute is both inconsistent with Congress' specific intent regarding the meaning of the limitation, and unnecessary to give continuing effect to its broader purposes. Id. In Justice Brennan's view, Congress consciously chose not to exempt processors engaged in the production of agriculture even though they bore some risks in common with agriculture generally. Id. The dissent's approach of adopting a bright-line rule permitting integrated producers to partake of the benefits of Capper-Volstead would do violence to that legislative intent. In Justice Brennan's view the proper approach is to engage in a case-by-case analysis, in which, "the nature of the association's activities, the degree of integration of its members, and the functions historically performed by farmers in the industry are relevant considerations in deciding whether an association is exempt." Id. at 836.*fn7
The defendants here urge the Court to adopt the bright line rule suggested by the dissent in National Broiler, to the effect that a farming operation is an eligible participant under Capper-Volstead, even if it is a fully integrated operation which extends from spring planting to the grocery store warehouse. However, the Court agrees with Justice Brennan's concern with that view. Adopting the dissent's expansive reading of the statute would read "the farmer" requirement out of the statute, ignore congressional intent, and create the potential for abuse.
On the other hand, the Court is also disinclined to adopt a bright line rule that any degree of vertical integration disqualifies a farming operation from participating in a Capper-Volstead eligible association. Rather, a factually-intense inquiry is necessary -- one which focuses on the economics and history of potato marketing, the actual functions of the associations, and the degree of integration of the participants. From that evaluation a determination must be made as to whether granting Capper-Volstead exemption here would be consistent with the legislative intent to create an environment in which farmers can compete on a level playing field. However, a better-developed record is necessary before the Court can make that determination.
Accordingly, the Court will deny the motions to dismiss to the extent they are based on Capper-Volstead. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants entered into agreements with unprotected entities, including non-protected potato groups, non-producer partners, a dehydration joint venture, and integrated members and packer/warehouses. If proved, these allegations could preclude application of the CapperVolstead exemption. Resolving these allegations of alleged anti-competitive practices which potentially place a defendant's conduct outside the Capper-Volstead exemption requires a fact intensive inquiry which should be completed by the Court only after proper discovery has been conducted.*fn8
As noted above, the Court will, although not necessary to its decision, address legal issues which have been fully briefed and argued, on which there is little case law, and where there are no disputed issues of fact.
(a) Collusive Production Curtailment
Plaintiffs contend that the list of activities protected by the Capper-Volstead Act excludes acreage reductions, production restrictions, or collusive crop planning. The Court agrees.
The Court first notes that there are no cases where a court specifically approved, under the Capper-Volstead Act, a pre-production agricultural output limitation as opposed to a post-production marketing decision such as withholding of product from market. Likewise, there are no cases where a court has concluded that Capper-Volstead immunizes cooperatives and their members who seek to collectively implement production controls in order to raise prices.
However, the language of the Capper-Volstead Act itself indicates that it does not apply to production limitations. The Court must construe statutory terms in accordance with their ordinary meaning. Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 476 (1994); United States v. Nader, 542 F.3d 713, 717 (9th Cir. 2008). The key phrase of the Act, "processing, preparing for market, handling, and marketing," applies to acts done to an agricultural product after it has been planted and harvested. Thus, under the plain language of the statute, coordinating and reducing acreage for planting is not allowed.*fn9
The cases cited by Defendants for the contrary view are distinguishable. For example, in In the Matter of Wash. Crab Ass'n, 66 F.T.C. 45 (1964), the court did not address Capper-Volstead. Instead, the case dealt with the Fishermen's Collective Marketing Act ("FCMA") (15 U.S.C. § 521), which states:
Persons engaged in the fishery industry, as fishermen, catching, collecting, or cultivating aquatic products, or as planters of aquatic products on public or private beds, may act together in associations, corporate or otherwise, with or without capital stock, in collectively catching, producing, preparing for market, processing, handling, and marketing in interstate and foreign commerce, such products of said persons so engaged. 15 U.S.C. § 521. The plain language of that statute is far different from the plain language of Capper-Volstead. It specifically allows fishermen to act jointly in producing and catching fish.
Defendants next suggest that the court in Alexander v. Nat'l Farmers Organization, 687 F.2d 1173 (8th Cir. 1982) broadly considered antitrust claims involving a cooperative's efforts to limit the supply of milk. Defendants cite the court's conclusion that the cooperative's decision to withhold milk from the market "as a general matter, is within the scope of the Capper-Volstead exemption." Alexander, 687 F.2d at 1188. Alexander did not involve a production restriction, however. Instead, members of a dairy farmer cooperative withheld already produced milk from the market for a matter of days until the DOJ successfully enjoined it. Alexander, 687 F.2d at 1182.
The case of Holly Sugar Corp. v. Goshen County Co-op. Beet Growers Ass'n, 725 F.2d 564 (10th Cir. 1984) is even less applicable to this case. Defendants properly explain that in that case the Tenth Circuit recognized that the Capper-Volstead exemption protected the efforts of a sugar beet growers' association to prevent its members from contracting outside of the association. Members of the association had signed a marketing agreement which prevented them from contracting individually with a buyer. Holly Sugar, 725 F.2d at 566. After the association failed to reach an agreement with the buyer, several growers sought to sell their sugar beets outside of the association. Id. The members sued the association for relief from the marketing restriction, and the trial court granted the injunction. Id. at 567. The Tenth Circuit reversed and held that the marketing agreement did not violate antitrust laws and that the cooperative could prevent its members from negotiating independent sales contracts. Id. at 569.
Based on that finding, Defendants suggest that the Tenth Circuit concluded that the cooperative could manage the supply of sugar beets by preventing its members from putting their crops on the market. Notably, however, there was no finding that the cooperative controlled pre-production agricultural output.
Defendants next rely on Northern California Supermarkets, Inc. v. Central California Lettuce Producers Coop., et al., 413 F. Supp. 984 (N.D. Cal 1976) which concluded that a cooperative's activities were within the purposes of Capper-Volstead and Section 6 of the Clayton Act through all production phases. In that case, the court specifically noted that the cooperative engaged in marketing activities such as gathering and disseminating information concerning the planting, harvesting and shipment of lettuce. This general statement does seem to cloud the issue a bit. However, there was no dispute in Northern California Supermarkets that the "primary activity of [the cooperative] [was] to set prices or price ranges to which members [were] required to adhere in the sale of their lettuce." Id. at 987. There was no indication that the cooperative actually curtailed production or did anything more than gather and disseminate information regarding pre-production agricultural output.
Still, Defendants argue that because Capper-Volstead cooperatives are allowed to fix prices, they must also be allowed to restrict production. This argument is unpersuasive. The reason an agricultural cooperative can fix the price at which their good is sold is because if the price rises, farmers will produce more and consumers will not be overcharged. Individual freedom to produce more in times of high prices is a quintessential safeguard against Capper-Volstead abuse, which Congress recognized in enacting the statute.
Although dicta, the FTC's language in In the Matter of Central California Lettuce Producers Cooperative, 90 F.T.C. 18, at 32 n. 20 (July 25, 1977) is telling on this matter:
Congress' attitude toward production controls provides an additional indication that it did not regard the corporation as the model around which the Capper-Volstead exemption would be built. Beyond doubt, a single corporation can restrict its output, if it chooses, without incurring antitrust liability. Nevertheless, there are strong indications that Congress did not intend to allow farmers to use cooperatives as a vehicle by which they could effectively agree to limit production. (emphasis added). The FTC went on to quote Senator Capper during debate of the Act, where he stated:
But a farmers' monopoly is impossible. If the cooperative marketing association makes its price too high, the result is inevitable self-destruction by overproduction in the following years. No other industry except agriculture has this automatic safeguard. With corporation activities the group producers, such as the United States Steel Corporation, can reduce the quantity of steel rails it will produce at any given time or completely close down its mills and reduce the supply.
Id. (Internal citations omitted).
Furthermore, "Congress has reinforced the interpretation that production controls were not authorized by adding to the Capper-Volstead Act a comprehensive statutory scheme for controlling supply in the form of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 (AMAA), 7 U.S.C. 601 et seq." Id. If a cooperative is allowed to limit production among its own members, it can "shut off the safety valve against private abuse that ameliorates the adverse consumer impact of the Capper-Volstead exemption and circumvent the important procedural safeguards of the AMAA." Id.
For these reasons, the Court concludes that acreage reductions, production restrictions, and collusive crop planning are not activities protected by the CapperVolstead Act.
(b) Alleged Conspiracy with Foreign Association
Plaintiffs do not challenge the applicability of the Capper-Volstead exemption based on foreign farmers being members of UPGA. However, they do contend that any conspiracy with a foreign association negates the exemption. The issue has not been directly addressed by a court, and opinions on the matter are scant at best.
The most compelling evidence of whether a domestic cooperative forfeits application of the Capper-Volstead applies when it conspires with a foreign association is in the Act itself. The Capper-Volstead Act uses the term "persons" without limitation and does not exclude foreign producers. As pointed out by Defendants, the reference in the Act to "foreign commerce" demonstrates that Congress intended Capper-Volstead to apply to foreign entities. 7 U.S.C. §§ 291-292. Additionally, Section 6 of the Clayton Act serves to exempt agricultural producers from liability under the antitrust laws. The Sherman Act and the Clayton Act both define "person" to include "corporations and associations existing under or authorized by the laws of the United States, the laws of any of the Territories, the laws of any State, or the laws of any foreign country." 15 U.S.C. §§ 7, 12(a). Accordingly, as a matter of law, any collaboration with foreign growers does not necessarily destroy the Capper-Volstead exemption.
A few courts have touched on the issue, but those cases are barely worth noting. For example, in Northern Cranberries Inc., v. Ocean Spray, Inc., 382 F. Supp. 2d 221 (D. Mass. 2004), the court interpreted the term "persons" in 7 U.S.C. § 291 to include foreign persons and entities such that they could be members of a domestic cooperative.
Cranberries, 382 F. Supp. 2d at 225-26. However, the decision did not directly address whether a domestic cooperative would lose access to the Capper-Volstead exemption if it conspired with a foreign cooperative. Similarly, in United States v. Nat'l Board of Fur Farm Organizations, Inc., 395 F. Supp. 56, 57 (E.D. Wis. 1975), the court touched on the issue in the context of a motion to dismiss a criminal indictment. The court noted that both the government and the defendants appeared to agree that a Capper-Volstead organization is not exempt from liability if the organization conspires with "other persons," but it never directly addressed the question of whether the foreign organizations were exempt under Capper-Volstead. Instead, the court simply denied the motion to dismiss because the government was not obligated to negate the defense in the criminal indictment. Fur Farm, 395 F. Supp at 57.
Finally, United States v. Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., 2000 WL 33200552 (E.D. Pa. 2000) is not as helpful as suggested by Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs suggest that the DOJ's view as to the inapplicability of the Capper-Volstead Act to foreign producers figured into the resolution to its challenge to the acquisition by the Dairy Farmers of America ("D.F.A.") of SODIALL North American Corporation, a subsidiary of a large foreign cooperative. Plaintiffs cite the DOJ's competitive impact statement in that case, and suggest that central to DOJ's decision to block the merger was DOJ's determination that SODIALL did not have the benefit of the Capper-Volstead exemption. The impact statement does indicate that DOJ believes that SODIALL did not have the benefit of the Capper-Volstead exemption. (Dkt. 111, Ex. S.) However, there is no discussion about why SODIALL does not have the benefit of the exemption, or more importantly, whether a conspiracy between D.F.A. and SODIALL would deny application of the exemption to D.F.A.
After considering the statutory language and the limited number of cases which have addressed the issue, the Court concludes that an association does not lose its CapperVolstead exemption by including, among its members, foreign corporations or legal entities.
The defendants who seek a Twombly dismissal fall into four general categories: potato growers; licensors; marketers; and dehydrators.
A. The Potato Growers' Motion to Dismiss*fn10
At its heart, this case is about a group of potato growers who allegedly agreed to reduce the supply of potatoes they produce so as to increase prices. See DPC ¶ 3. The core allegations against the potato growers begin with a September 2004 meeting in Blackfoot, Idaho, which is described in the complaints as follows:
167. The potato cartel was first formalized when Mr. Wada organized a meeting of Idaho potato farmers in September of 2004 to discuss how to "curb production" and "boost prices" for potatoes. At this meeting, Mr. Wada and Keith Cornelison (of Defendant Cornelison Farms) summoned 23 Idaho potato growers to an office in Blackfoot, Idaho to discuss how their collective efforts at reducing potato supplies would help fix, raise, maintain, and stabilize prices.
168. After more meetings, phone calls, and emails among these growers, the group agreed to form UPGI - with the explicit goal of reducing potato supplies through various means.
169. The 23 growers in attendance at this meeting became the founders of UPGI, which filed for incorporation on November 2, 2004. The founders' operations encompassed approximately 60 percent of the fresh potatoes produced in Idaho and 25 percent of the fresh potato market in the United States. . . .
171. In the Articles of Incorporation of UPGI, the stated purpose of the organization is "to stabilize potato prices and supplies in the State of Idaho and to work with similar cooperatives in other states having similar purposes."
DPC ¶ 167-69, 171. The growers who are identified as having attended the meeting include the moving grower defendants. Id. ¶ 170. It further alleges that these growers were founding members of UPGI and that they "explicitly signed on to the supply reduction and price-fixing scheme alleged herein." Id. The DPC goes on to detail various acts taken after the 2004 meeting to implement the conspiracy, including, among other things:
* Yearly acreage reductions rules, meaning that the growers planted fewer potatoes;
* A bid buy-down program, whereby growers were paid not to plant potatoes;
* "Shipping holidays," during which packing plants were shut down for at least eight hours; and
* "Flow-control" activities, whereby certain defendants allegedly participated in marketing calls in an effort to prevent potatoes from ...