Business

Justice Department seeks to nix decades-old Northern Iowa antitrust judgments

(Dreamstime/TNS)
(Dreamstime/TNS)

The U.S. Department of Justice is moving to wipe out “irrelevant” antitrust judgments, including three filed in Northern Iowa.

Federal attorneys last week filed motions to terminate three such judgments, originally filed between 1963 and 1970 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, concerning Iowa Beef Packers and two newspaper advertising mat companies.

The department announced in April 2018 it would seek to close nearly 1,300 “legacy” cases in federal court dockets nationwide, most leftover from before 1979, when its Antitrust Division began including sunset provisions to automatically terminate judgments, usually after 10 years.

Those “outdated” cases “presently do little more than clog court dockets, create unnecessary uncertainty for businesses or, in some cases, may actually elicit anticompetitive market conditions,” the Antitrust Division said last year.

The division filed a lawsuit in 1969 to block a merger between the meatpacking company, which Tyson Foods acquired for $3.2 billion in 2001, and Blue Ribbon Beef Pack, which operated slaughtering plants in Le Mars and Mason City.

The parties settled in 1970, and though the court let the merger stand, it required Iowa Beef Packers to divest the two plants together or separately within two years. The company also was forbidden from buying assets from any cattle-slaughtering businesses in Iowa or three neighboring states for 10 years without federal permission.

Later, during a 1977 modification to the judgment, the court allowed Iowa Beef Packers to reacquire the Mason City plant, so long as it razed the facility and did not build a new one on the vacant land for five years.

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Separate federal consent judgments were filed against Stamps-Conhaim-Whitehead and Metro Associated Services, both New York-based newspaper advertising mat companies, in 1963 and 1964, respectively.

The companies were barred from refusing to sell any newspaper their ad mat services — or catalogs of illustrations smaller papers often used to create ad copy for local businesses — or keeping contracts exclusively with one paper in a community.

Iowa Beef Packers satisfied the terms of its judgment decades ago, while modern newspaper technology has eliminated the ad mat market, and Stamps-Conhaim-Whitehead no longer exists, argued U.S. Attorney Jacob Schunk in a June 28 memorandum.

The three cases were on the Justice Department’s radar since June 2018, when it first publicly proposed terminating them and opened a 30-day window for public comment, including opposition. No comments were received, the department wrote last week.

No court orders have been issued concerning the cases as of Wednesday morning.

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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