U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss granted preliminary approval Wednesday to a revised Dean Foods settlement in the class action lawsuit being brought on behalf of Northeast dairy farmers, clearing the way for the plaintiffs to begin notifying farmers of the $30 million payment Dean has agreed to make to settle the case.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, which include two Vermont dairy farmers, have estimated that about 8,000 farmers will be entitled to a share of the settlement. They have characterized the case as the first step in breaking Dean’s grip on the milk market, restoring competitoin to the marketplace. Dean is the largest milk processor in the country.
The two other defendants in the lawsuit, Dairy Farmers of America, and its marketing arm, Dairy Marketing Services, have refused to settle, and have said the lawsuit is pitting dairy farmer against dairy farmer. Dairy Farmers of America is the largest dairy farmer cooperative in the nation and includes hundreds of Vermont dairy farmers.
About two dozen farmers belonging to the Dairy Farmers of America coop attended an April 15 hearing on the case in Reiss’s court to show their opposition to the lawsuit. The farmers have said a provision of the lawsuit that would require Dean to buy at least 10 percent of its milk from a source other than Dairy Farmers of America would ultimately lead to lower milk prices and could put some of them out of business.
But as Judge Reiss noted in her decision Wednesday, that provision of the lawsuit was dropped in its revised version, clearing the way, in her opinion, for the $30 million settlement to go forward. Reiss noted in her opinion that the requirement to buy milk from sources other than Dairy Farmers of America "has been the sole source of objections to the Dean Settlement."
"We’re pleased with the Court’s decision and believe this is a very good outcome for the farmers represented in this case," said Benjamin Brown of Cohen Milstein Sellers Toll, PLLC, the Washington D.C. law firm bringing the lawsuit. "We are continuing to move the case forward against the remaining defendats, DFA and DMS, and expect to complete factual discovery in the case in the next month."
Attorneys for Dairy Farmers of America were still reviewing Reiss’s decision Thursday morning.
Essentially, Dean settled for what might have been its costs to defend itself in the case. Not bad. And, as things stand, we have learned nothing and nothing has changed.
Most everyone had hoped for more - much more.