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Court Sides With Farmers Against Deere
By Todd Neeley
Monday, November 27, 2023 3:26PM CST

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Antitrust lawsuits filed by more than 17 farmers across the country against John Deere will be allowed to continue after a federal court in Illinois on Monday denied a company motion that would have ended the case.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Illinois denied a Deere motion to issue a ruling in an ongoing right-to-repair antitrust case based on the pleadings in the case. The lawsuits allege the company monopolized the repair-service market for John Deere brand agricultural equipment with onboard central computers known as engine control units or ECUs.

John Deere essentially asked the court to rule on the facts already presented before a trial could be held.

In its motion filed in December 2022, Deere alleged the farmer plaintiffs lack legal standing to sue, fail to identify a "plausible relevant market" to base their claims, fail to "plausibly allege" Deere has monopoly power in the repair-services market and fail to "plausibly allege" any "anticompetitive" conduct.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Iain D. Johnston said the farmers' complaint "alleges both constitutional and antitrust standing, relevant markets, and all the necessary requirements for each count in the complaint."

The judge said he expects the case to be a "long and expensive" process despite "this court's goal of bringing this litigation to a just, speedy and inexpensive resolution. This order is the first major step on that journey."

The lawsuits allege Deere violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and are seeking damages for paying for repairs from Deere dealers beginning on Jan. 12, 2018, to the present.

John Deere did not respond to DTN's request for comment on Monday.

"Less than an hour's drive from the Stanley J. Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse down Illinois Route 2 between Oregon and Dixon, Illinois is the John Deere Historic Site," Johnston said in his order.

"Free of charge, visitors can learn much about John Deere, the man. The takeaway from a visit to this historic site is that John Deere was an innovative farmer and blacksmith who -- with his own hands -- fundamentally changed the agricultural industry. This multi-district litigation concerns allegations of non-competitive behavior by Deere and Co., a multi-billion-dollar international corporation. If -- and that's a big if -- the claims against Deere and Co. are meritorious, then the court assumes the man lionized at the historic site would be deeply disappointed in his namesake corporation."

Johnston said the farmers' complaint meets all the legal requirements for antitrust litigation.

"The complaint contains allegations showing that Deere has monopoly power -- which exists because of Deere's lack of forthrightness and/or the lack of consumer information to calculate life-cycle costs -- in the relevant aftermarket," the ruling said.

"No other competitors exist, which is monopoly power. And Deere's alleged conduct excludes competitors at the cost of Deere's customers' choices to perform their own repairs or have a local repair shop perform the repairs, even when they could perform the repairs faster, better, and cheaper, which is anticompetitive conduct. So, the complaint alleges a monopoly and anticompetitive conduct."

Though more states are considering right-to-repair legislation there is a growing call for Congress to act on a national level.

Agriculture interest groups have been reaching agreements with equipment manufacturers, to ensure increased access of necessary diagnostic and other tools to farmers and independent repair shops.

Read more on DTN:

"Deere Seeks End to Right-to-Repair Case," https://www.dtnpf.com/….

"Who Should Fix Ag Equipment Emissions?," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com.

Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @DTNeeley.


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