A small group of dairy farmers has launched a longshot lawsuit that aims to destroy the nation’s largest milk cooperative.
The suit was filed against staff and board members of Dairy Farmers of America on June 22 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
The suit alleges DFA used supply agreements to subjugate Dean Foods and regional cooperatives, failed to return adequate profits from dairy processing to its farmer members, and silenced farmer dissent by tampering with milk tests and arbitrarily enforcing animal-welfare standards.
The lawsuit seeks damages, the sale of DFA’s processing plants and the dissolving of the cooperative, which has more than 13,000 members.
Monica Massey, who is DFA’s executive vice president and a defendant named in the lawsuit, called the claims “ridiculous” and said the cooperative would mount a vigorous defense.
“It is yet another frivolous filing and allegation the plaintiffs’ attorney, Joshua Harr (Haar), has made in relation to DFA and the dairy industry, as he searches for others to support his personal agenda,” Massey said in an email. “It is unfortunate that farmer time and money must now be spent defending claims made by someone with an agenda to try to dismantle the cooperative.”
Haar’s parents were parties in a class-action lawsuit launched in 2009 that alleged DFA, its marketing arm Dairy Marketing Services and Dean Foods worked together to dominate the raw milk market in the Northeast.
About 8,860 Northeastern farms were expected to average $4,000 apiece from that suit, though some farmers opted out of that 2016 settlement and brought a new suit.
Dean Foods settled in 2011 for $30 million.
The lead plaintiff in the just-launched lawsuit is Susan Poole, a Dean Foods investor who says DFA’s actions destroyed her investment in the company.
Dean Foods sold most of its dairy plants, 44 facilities, to DFA earlier this year as part of a bankruptcy proceeding.
The cooperative agreed to forgo three of the plants it had wanted as an antitrust concession.
To oppose the sale to DFA, Haar submitted a friend-of-the-court brief that appeared to describe the cooperative as a group of “mobsters.”
The document was submitted on behalf of Poole and signed by Haar’s father and a number of dairy activists.
Haar did not respond to Lancaster Farming’s email and phone requests for an interview.
On July 20, the court stayed DFA’s deadline to respond to Poole’s new complaint after the cooperative argued it had not been properly served notice of the lawsuit.