Types of Cattle Industry Lawsuits
Cattle law can be very complex and overwhelming to many livestock owners. It always seems as though there is a new cattle industry lawsuit in the newspaper or on TV. Farmers and ranchers must be knowledgeable about multiple types of cattle industry lawsuits to be able to protect their business interests, properties, herds, equipment, and more. Many cattle ranchers have fostered their businesses through years of hands-on experience working in the industry. Unfortunately, cattle ranchers and other livestock-based businesses may find themselves in a situation in which they need to file a lawsuit against a distributor or are the target of a lawsuit brought by a large corporation. Two recent examples of these types of lawsuits both include major beef packer Tyson.
In 2020, the four largest beef packers in the U.S. – Cargill, Tyson, JBS USA, and National Beef – were brought into the spotlight for potentially manipulating the cattle market and had a class action lawsuit filed against them in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota by Central Grocers. According to the plaintiffs, the group of beef packers engaged in a wide-reaching conspiracy to artificially depress cattle prices across the country, resulting in lower prices for producers and record profits for the meatpacking industry giants. The scheme allegedly involved a range of coordinated anticompetitive actions, including forcing feedlots to abide by overly restrictive agreements and shutting down slaughter plants. The lawsuit also claims the defendants conspired by routinely exchanging pricing, supply, and other sensitive information among each other. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have now launched investigations into whether or not the four meatpacking companies listed in the lawsuit have unlawfully fixed domestic beef pricing to the detriment of cattle ranchers.
On the other hand, Tyson Fresh Meats filed a recent lawsuit against Easterday Ranches for the recovery of assets, including an alleged loss of $225 million. The lawsuit alleges the Washington cattle feeder charged Tyson for false cattle sales and feed costs in a scheme to make up the money lost in the commodities trading markets. Tyson is asking for a court-appointed receiver to take control of Easterday Ranches. To make matters even more complicated, while the lawsuit was being filed, Easterday Ranches sold its “North Lot” to AB Livestock. AB Livestock, a division of Agri Beef Co, is a direct competitor of Tyson Fresh Meats. The sale raises some issues that the court will need to sort out as Tyson claims it still has 54,000 head of cattle on feed with Easterday Ranches and does not know how many of those cattle are in the North Lot. The lawsuit remains ongoing. These are just a few examples of cattle industry lawsuits that can arise from both the producing and processing sides.
Other areas of cattle industry litigation include:
- Property owner rights: Many cattle ranchers will face disputes over land ownership, including eminent domain, leases, real estate condemnation, annexation, surface damages, fencing laws, and more. There are also opportunities for legal agreements with energy companies seeking to put wind leases on land currently owned by a cattle rancher. Ensuring the property owner gets adequate compensation for these deals will take knowledgeable legal representation.
- Partnership/entity disputes: Many partnerships in the cattle industry will see disputes arise that require legal consultation for resolution. The ownership of valuable animals and property can lead to aggressive lawsuits that trigger legal battles drawn out over years.
- Employment disputes: Many cattle ranches have teams of employees and contractors who work either full-time, part-time, or for a season. As such, it is inevitable that an employment dispute will arise at some point during the business’s operation.
- Environmental disputes: Property owners, feed lots, and other agribusinesses may face environmental disputes arising from concentrated animal feeding operations and various other regulated business activities.
- Water rights: Water is essential to raising herds of cattle. Obtaining water rights as well as defending against water rights disputes will take experienced legal representation. Disputes may arise over riparian and surface water rights, drainage issues, the manipulation of waterways, and permitting issues.
- Equipment liability: Cattle ranches use a wide variety of machinery and equipment to maintain their herds. If problematic machinery or equipment injures or causes another type of loss to either employees or animals, a legal claim could be filed.
- Intellectual property: Protecting trade secrets is incredibly important when it comes to the cattle industry. Many ranchers will want to protect their business operations using patents, trademarks, state-registered cattle brands, copyrights, and trade secrets. Many ranchers invent their own machinery to efficiently manage their cattle herds. These inventions should be patented quickly to avoid knockoffs. Legal disputes can arise if multiple people lay claim to the intellectual property of a business.
- Regulatory Concerns: The cattle industry is highly regulated by government agencies and must operate within strict boundaries for their products to be sold. If there are alleged regulatory violations or safety violations, a business may face shut down by a variety of agencies. Legal representation may be required if they are targeting a cattle-based business unfairly.
Texas Cattle Industry Lawyers
The cattle industry runs through the veins of Texans. We are dedicated to representing and protecting the rights and assets of hard-working individuals and families in the cattle and other livestock-based industries. Firm Managing Partner John H. Lovell is one of only a few trained agronomists practicing cattle law on a regular basis. While pursuing his undergraduate degree, John learned about crop production, plant physiology, soils, irrigation, and more. He also worked on a ranch for five years after college, which contributed to his depth of understanding about cattle. He has handled transactional and litigation matters involving cattle law for over 35 years.