JUNEAU — The Alaska Department of Law is seeking more than $1 billion from 21 businesses involved in the poultry industry, accusing them of operating a cartel and illegally inflating the price of most chicken sold in the state.
The state filed a consumer-protection lawsuit against the nation’s largest poultry producers, poultry distributors, and some poultry pricers late last month, according to court documents.
The case was filed in state court, and Alaska is pursuing it unilaterally, though similar cases have been filed nationwide.
The lawsuit involves broiler chickens, which account for 98% of all chicken sold in the United States.
“In the complaint, the state alleges that a cartel of corporations engaged in an illegal conspiracy to restrain production and manipulate pricing to artificially inflate the price of broiler chicken throughout the United States, including Alaska,” said Maria Bahr, an assistant attorney general and spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law.
The lawsuit asks for “civil penalties against each defendant up to $50 million per defendant.” A full penalty would result in more than $1 billion in payments, but the suit doesn’t stop there. It also asks for damages, restitution, attorney fees and costs.
Alaska’s lawsuit is one of many that have been filed since 2016, when the nation’s largest chicken producers were accused of working together to cut supply and drive up chicken prices. The accusations in Alaska’s lawsuit are almost identical to those filed in other cases.
In 2017, the producers collectively responded to one lawsuit by calling it a “conspiracy theory” and asserting that price fluctuations could be attributable to other causes, including the Great Recession.
In January, Tyson Foods — the nation’s largest poultry producer — agreed to pay more than $200 million to settle one class-action lawsuit.
Bahr said the state has hired two law firms, Nix Patterson LLP and Fosler Law Inc., to help with the lawsuit.
The state’s contract with those firms, signed by former Attorney General-designee Ed Sniffen late last year, says the firms will “advance all costs of investigation and litigation” and will be reimbursed only if the state wins an award via settlement or trial.
The companies would receive 20% of that award in addition to having their costs reimbursed.