A federal judge has ruled in favor of the nation's biggest chocolate makers, including The Hershey Co., in an antitrust case over price-fixing allegations that went back to 2002.
Judge Christopher C. Conner of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued a ruling today in the matter, which was filed in 2008.
The class action was brought on behalf of 2,900 wholesalers, grocery stores, and other businesses that directly purchase chocolate from the three companies. The alleged price-fixing conspiracy has resulted in 91 legal actions across multiple districts, consolidated for pretrial purposes as In re: Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litigation.
"Initially, plaintiffs' claims of a domestic price-fixing conspiracy were quite plausible. The Canadian trade spend conspiracy raised the specter of Sherman Act violations in our contiguous marketplace. Litigation and merits discovery properly ensued. But, at the end of the day, the probata could not match the allegata," Conner said.
He added: "Despite diligent efforts on the part of plaintiffs' counsel and nearly unfettered access to defendants' records, plaintiffs are before the court with nothing more than speculation as to the who, what, when, where, and how of the communications that allegedly facilitated the parallel price increases. Nothing scandalous or improper has been discovered within our borders, and no evidence permits a reasonable inference of a price-fixing agreement. Plaintiffs offer no meaningful arguments or evidence to counter defendants' legitimate business explanations for the parallel price increases.
The individual purchaser plaintiffs are Meijer, Inc. and Meijer Distribution,Inc.; Publix Super Markets, Inc.; Affiliated Foods, Inc.; CVS Pharmacy, Inc.; Rite Aid Corporation, and Rite Aid Hdqtrs. Corp.; Longs Drug Stores California, Inc.; Golub Corporation (d/b/a Price Chopper); Giant Eagle, Inc.; Kroger Co.; Safeway, Inc.; Walgreen Co.; Hy-Vee, Inc.; The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.; Albertson's LLC; HEB Grocery Company, LP; SuperValu, Inc.; Food Lion LLC; Hannaford Bros. Co.; Kash n'Karry Food Stores, Inc.; Brookshire Grocery Co.; and United Supermarkets LLC.