Three major potash fertilizer producers—including Plymouth-based The Mosaic Company—said Wednesday that they have agreed to collectively pay nearly $100 million to settle class-action litigation accusing them of collusion and price fixing.
The settlements, which require court approval, will conclude litigation that has been pending in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois since 2008.
Mosaic and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Potash Corporation said in separate announcements that they each agreed to pay $43.75 million. Calgary, Alberta-based Agrium, Inc., meanwhile, said that it agreed to pay $10 million to settle the claims.
All three companies denied any wrongdoing, and Mosaic said it agreed to the settlement “to avoid the significant costs, burden, and distraction of protracted litigation.”
Purchasers of potash claimed in a class-action lawsuit that Mosaic and the other defendants “conspired and combined to fix, raise, maintain, and stabilize the prices for potash that was sold in the United States,” according to court documents. The companies allegedly “exchanged sensitive, non-public information about prices, capacity, sales volumes, and demand; allocated market shares, customers, and volumes to be sold; and coordinated on output, including the limitation of production, to further and enact the price-fixing conspiracy.”
Potash is a powdery salt that contains potassium and is primarily used in fertilizers. Mosaic, which spun off from Cargill in 2011, mines potash in Saskatchewan, New Mexico, and Michigan.
Mosaic is among Minnesota’s 10-largest public companies based on revenue, which totaled $11.1 billion in its most recently completed fiscal year. Potash accounted for roughly 30 percent of those sales, and the company bills itself as the fourth-largest producer of potash in the world.
The recent settlement comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled in June that the three potash industry giants must face the antitrust lawsuit brought by fertilizer purchasers, reversing an earlier decision that the case be thrown out, according to a report by the Star Tribune. The court reportedly ruled that the plaintiffs' allegations "suffice, at this stage, to support a plausible story of concerted action" by the potash producers." It also said that "foreign sellers allegedly created a cartel, took steps outside the United States to drive the price up of a product that is wanted in the United States, and then (after succeeding in doing so) sold that product to U.S. customers."
An attorney for the plaintiffs told the Minneapolis newspaper that the plaintiffs include 3,000 to 5,000 buyers of potash, ranging from farmers to wholesalers. Now-defunct Minnesota company Minn-Chem was reportedly one of the original plaintiffs. Russian and Belorussian potash producers that were also defendants previously agreed to pay a combined $12.5 million to settle the claims, according to the Star Tribune.
Potash Corporation President and CEO Bill Doyle, meanwhile, said in a statement that the allegations “are completely without merit.” The settlement “serves as another example of the well documented abuse of class actions in the United States where self-interested plaintiffs’ attorneys enlist nominal plaintiffs—some of whom have served in that capacity in multiple class actions—to assert meritless claims in lawsuits where neither the plaintiffs’ lawyers nor their clients have anything to lose but in which defendants face the enormous burden, distraction, and expense of litigation even though we did nothing wrong,” he said.