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The agricultural industry has long enjoyed an exception from antitrust laws under the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922, which exempts agricultural cooperatives from federal antitrust scrutiny. Accordingly, large agricultural associations and cooperatives have formed, leading to the coagulation of many food products’ industries into giant collectives. As these collectives have grown, small farmers have joined together to file private antitrust enforcement actions against these conglomerates. To combat these enforcement actions, agricultural collectives have paid out large settlement sums to quash these private actions and ensure that their operations continue smoothly.

Private enforcement actions are a key tool for ensuring a free and fair market. When defendants like large agricultural associations in a private enforcement action settle, the settlement often occurs at the expense of a class of individuals and businesses that is harmed by the associations’ continued anticompetitive conduct. Moreover, these settlements deprive courts of a case or controversy to further develop law and policy concerning antitrust and agriculture. Although government agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can pursue legal action against these defendants, federal action is often delayed and may have little impact on the market.

This Note proposes judicial review of private antitrust settlements as a method to ensure that these private settlements lead to effective changes in anticompetitive conduct from cartels. Drawing from the role of consent decrees in the DOJ’s civil antitrust litigation and Delaware courts’ scrutiny of “disclosure only” settlements in corporate mergers and acquisition (M&A) litigation after In re Trulia, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, this Note argues that judicial review is a powerful instrument that can be used to ensure fair settlements that minimize the effects of anticompetitive conduct in the agricultural industry.

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