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Southeast Dairy Farmers’ Settlement with Dean Foods and SMA is back on Track; Farmers Renew Motion for Class Certification against Dairy Farmers of America Inc.

The settlement reached with Dean Foods Company (“Dean”), Southern Marketing Agency (“SMA”) and James Baird last summer has finally received preliminary approval on February 14, 2012 by Judge Ronnie Greer, in the U.S. District Court in Greenville, Tennessee on February 14, 2012.  The subclass of milk producers within Orders 5 and 7 who are also members of the national marketing cooperative Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (“DFA”) had been decertified and precluded from qualifying for the settlement.  The subclass has been reinstated with new counsel and a new class representative and may now receive the same benefits as non-DFA members. 

The parties settled for a total of $145 million, including some structural changes agreed to by SMA.  Notice of the settlement and claim forms were mailed teh week of February 20, 2012.  In order to recover under the settlement, claim forms must be completed and received no later than May 1, 2012.  The Court will convene a Fairness Hearing on May 15, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. at the U.S. Courthouse in Greeneville, Tennessee to consider whether the proposed settlements should be finally approved as fair, reasonable and adequate.  More information on the settlement, including the notice and claims forms, can be found at www.southeastdairyclass.com.

Meanwhile, a trial against the remaining defendant, DFA is set for summer 2012. In a motion filed Tuesday, February 28, 2012, the dairy farmers belonging to DFA asked the Court to reinstate certification after the Court decertified the class in July due to a potential conflict of interest arising from counsel representation.  The motion seeks recertification for litigation purposes, in addition to the preliminary certification of the settlement class granted by the Court earlier this month, for a subclass that includes Southeastern farmers who produced and sold Grade A milk to DFA anytime between January 2001 and the present.  The dairy farmers confirmed that the interclass conflict previously identified by the court has been cured by appointment of separate counsel and a class representative for the new DFA subclass.