A recent Law 360 story by J. Edward Moreno, “Peanut Processors To Shell Out $34M in Fees in Price-Fix Suit”, reports that a Virginia federal judge awarded more than $34 million in attorney fees to class counsel who secured more than $100 million in settlement funds for a class of peanut farmers accusing three major peanut shelling companies of artificially flattening the price they paid for crops. On July 27 the court granted final approval of the $45 million settlement with Golden Peanut Co., the last defendant in the case. That ruling resolved the litigation after a federal judge on April 5 approved settlements with the two other defendants, Olam Peanut Shelling Co. and Birdsong Corp., which settled for $7.75 million and $50 million, respectively.
The class counsel were awarded $34.25 million in attorney fees, which is a third of the total $102.75 million in the settlement fund. Additionally, class counsel was reimbursed $7,688 in litigation costs and fees. The court also approved $40,000 for each of the class representatives: D&M Farms, Mark Hasty, Dustin Land, Rocky Creek Peanut Farms LLC, Daniel Howell and Lonnie Gilbert.
The farmers, who won class certification for their antitrust suit in December, asked the court in June to sign off on the deal with Golden Peanut and proposed plan of distribution of the settlement fund, describing them as "fair, reasonable and adequate." The class action over peanut prices began in 2019 with allegations from five peanut farmers or peanut companies that the defendants worked together to depress the price they pay for the crops of the 12,000 class members.
U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson, in his Dec. 2 class certification ruling, said the fact that the defendants have such a hold on the industry — and that their executives were emailing each other about possible industry pricing — adds credence to the antitrust accusations. In asking for final approval, the parties said the settlement was reached after "good faith and vigorous, arm's-length negotiations" and was only crafted following "extensive factual and expert discovery and legal analysis" done by experienced counsel.