Final Payments to Farmer / Class Members in Southeast Milk Litigation Authorized by the Court

“The Checks Will Soon Be in the Mail,” may be a better headline.

An historic and record-setting food industry  class action that began in July of 2007 is now approaching completion nine and one-half years later. Final Settlement payments to farmer/class members in the Southeast Milk Litigation have been authorized by Judge Ronnie Greer, US District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee, Greeneville Division. Judge Greer issued his Orders on December 6, 2016.

A total Settlement Fund of over $280 Million was reached in three different settlements: one with Dean Foods, the second with Southern Marketing Agency and related entities, and the third with Dairy Farmers of America and Related Entities.  Payments began in January of 2013, and completed via annual payments.

In short, the final payments to farmer/class members in the Southeast Milk Litigation will shortly be in mailboxes, and should be received before or shortly after Christmas, 2016.

Farmers / Class members should be watching their mailboxes. Since previous payments have come in rather ordinary envelopes, recipients are advised to pay detailed attention to each envelope in their mailboxes, being careful to not lose Settlement payments with heavy mail volume common at this time of year. These are not electronic payments.

The class action began in July of 2007, when two original complaints were filed in US District Court, Middle District of Tennessee.  One complaint was filed on behalf of co-op member farmers, and one on behalf of independent farmers (those not belonging to a co-op).  The two complaints were consolidated in July of 2008 and redirected to the Eastern District of Tennessee, Greeneville Division, presided over by The Honorable Judge Ronnie Greer.

Farmer/Plaintiffs were represented by a team of antitrust attorneys from Baker-Hostetler, Washington, DC.  Led by Robert Abrams, the team included Greg Commins, and Danyll Foix, and a host of others during the course of the litigation.  Local plaintiff counsels in the District court included Thomas Jessee of Johnson City, and Steve Terry and Gary Brewer, Brewer & Terry of Morristown, TN.  When the complaints were filed, the same attorneys were with Howrey LLP, a law firm which dissolved during the course of the litigation.

The amended complaint is a great summary and timeline of the activities which eventually led to the Dean Foods Settlement in January of 2012, (first payments took place in January of 2013) and the DFA/Related Entities Settlement in January of 2013.  It should be noted that all defendants have fulfilled the terms of their settlement agreements, and that many (but not all) of the individuals named in the actions are no longer active in the named organizations.

During the course of the litigation, nearly 2 Million pages of legal documents were generated, many of which can be found at the litigation website.

With a 4-page Order of December 6, 2016, Judge Ronnie Greer, presiding Judge, authorized the fifth and final distribution of Dean Settlement funds.  In a separate but parallel action, he authorized the distribution of the Residual DFA Funds in a 3-page Order.  With these Orders entered on the Court’s record, Rust Consulting, Claims Administrator, will quickly begin writing and mailing checks to over 6,000 class members.


First, The Order Authorizing Distribution of the Final Dean Foods Settlement Payment:

Order Fifth Dean Distribution.pdf


Order Fifth Dean Distribution.pdf


Order Fifth Dean Distribution.pdf


(The Judge’s signature, and then keep scrolling down for the DFA Payment Order.)

Order Fifth Dean Distribution.pdf

Second: ORDER Authorizing Distribution of the RESIDUAL DFA SETTLEMENT Funds:

Order DFA Residual Distribution.pdf

PAGE 2: ORDER Authorizing Distribution of the Residual DFA SETTLEMENT Funds

Order DFA Residual Distribution.pdf

Page 3: ORDER Authorizing Distribution of the RESIDUAL DFA SETTLEMENT Funds:

Order DFA Residual Distribution.pdf

From having done extensive review of documents related to this class-action case, along with attending most of the courtroom hearings and then reporting on various matters related to this litigation,  it is my fervent hope that all farmers make every effort to more fully understand the BIG BUSINESS of what happens to affect their milk checks.

If one wants to begin, they will read the 7-pages of legal documents above, then read the 60-page amended complaint , and  then re-read them, and re-read them, and then re-read them again.  Although these events described in these documents are now a part of dairy industry history, they will provide a foundation for understanding milk marketing. If a person does begin to read them, they need to remember that today’s markets will have changed, due to time, and the evolution of milk markets themselves.

Happy Reading!  Be Watching for those checks!

Sun Photo by Phil Gentry
Federal Court House




Southeast Milk Litigation: All Payments to be Finalized in Fall of 2016

Sun Photo by Phil GentryFederal Court House

Sun Photo by Phil Gentry Federal Court House

(Greeneville, TN)  All payments to class members in the Southeast Milk Litigation (SEML) will be final this fall with the completion of up to two additional payments from different settlements in the historic Class Action.

One of those payments will complete the cycle of payments in the Dean Foods portion of the Settlement. Individual recipients should expect to receive an amount similar to the previous Dean payments.

“Almost unbelievably, there are some uncashed checks from previous payments which need to be cleared before those payments can be finalized,” says John Harrison, Class Representative for the plaintiffs.

“Those uncashed checks must be accounted for or reconciled before final payments can be made, since everything must zero out before final closure of the Settlement accounts.”

Letters, some containing reissued checks, have been sent to the owners-of-record of those uncashed checks, with a reminder that those checks must be deposited within 30 days  of check issue (approximately, by the third week of August).

ANY QUESTIONS?  Act Immediately!  If anyone believes that they fall into this category of ‘uncashed checks,’ or if anyone believes they are due a payment which they have not received in previous cycles, they are asked to immediately contact the Attorneys-of-Record of each of the Litigation subclasses as follows:

Independent producers, as well as all other producers belonging to co-ops other than DFA, should contact Baker-Hostetler, by phone at 202- 861-1500, or via mail at:

Southeast Milk Litigation

Baker & Hostetler LLP

Attn: Robert Abrams, Greg Commins, or Danyll Foix
1050 Connecticut Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20036


DFA producers should contact Brewer & Terry, by phone at 423-587-2730, or via mail at

     Southeast Milk Litigation

Brewer & Terry, P.C   Attn:  Steve Terry or Gary Brewer

1702 W. Andrew Johnson Hwy

Morristown, TN   37816

The Dean Foods Settlement, a total of $140 Million dollars to be paid over five scheduled payments, was final in June of 2012, with four of those payments already paid to class members.   This fall’s payment will be the last.

The second expected payment, much smaller, will reflect the final apportionment of the Dairy Farmers of America and Related Entities Settlement, which received final approval by the Court in May of 2013.  The initial $140 Million Settlement phase was paid out in one lump sum at the end of December, 2013, and was prorated to individual class members according to production in defined time frames. This fall’s payments will distribute any remaining funds.

All activity in this case was conducted following Federal Class Action laws and directives, and all procedures took place accordingly, under the supervision of the Court.  Judge Ronnie Greer presided over the case.

The amounts of the total Settlement in this case, which totaled in excess of $280 million dollars, set a record in the US Federal Court, Tennessee, Eastern District of Tennessee, and is one of the highest ever reached in dairy or food industry history in the United States.  Terms of each of the Settlements state  that none of the defendants admitted guilt.

For court documents and more information on the litigation, please refer to  In addition, various articles are posted at, or please google search “Southeast Milk Litigation.”

SE Milk Litigation: Appeal Deadline Expires, Dean Foods Payment 3 may be processed

Sun Photo by Phil GentryFederal Court House

The wait is apparently over for Dean Payment #3 per the Dean Foods/SMA Settlement Agreement in the Southeast Milk Litigation to be processed.

The deadline to file an Appeal to Judge Ronnie Greer’s October 16th, 2014 “Order Authorizing the Third Distribution of Dean Settlement Funds” has now expired. In this instance, an Appeal would have been filed with the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, located in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Unless official filing documents are received via the United States Postal Service at the Sixth Circuit offices with an appropriate postmark, payments can now be processed and mailed to producers.
Per Federal Court rules, there is a 30-day time frame in which an Appeal an Order may be filed, which may occur when Motions are filed prior to the entry of an Order.

According to court documents, a dairy farmer, who had become a board member of the SMA board following the Dean/SMA Settlement which became final in June of 2012, but prior to the DFA Settlement Agreement claims deadline of March 31,2013, received the first Dean Foods Settlement payment, but was denied the DFA Settlement Payment and Dean Payment #2.

This producer had filed a Motion asking the court to reinstate his eligibility for settlement payments, given the timing of his placement on the SMA Board. A clause was in all of the Settlement Agreements declaring Board Members of all defendant Co-ops to be ineligible for payments, but this specific instance of when a board position was filled was not addressed in the original documents, and so the Motion to reinstate was filed.

Producers who filed claims directly with Rust Consulting may expect that they will receive checks within a couple of weeks. Producers who used third-party filers may take a bit longer to receive their checks.
The amount in this cycle of checks will be similar to amounts producers received in the Dean Payment 2, paid to class members in September of 2013.

As far as future payments, producers can expect to receive their monies. Thus far, the defendants have been very responsible in depositing their monies in escrow accounts by the deadlines agreed upon in the original Settlement Agreements. This process is diligently monitored by the Court.

However, each payment cycle is always subject to various court proceedings, so the timing of receipts of payments by producers may vary. Two additional Dean Settlement Payments are set to be filed, one in 2015 and one in 2016. The possibility of an additional DFA payment remains if specified utilization rates are not reached by certain deadlines.

Class members should be aware that until the final payments are made, this is an ongoing legal matter, with a number of legal filings subject to changing subsequent payment schedules.

Producers will be notified of additional developments in this historic Class Action litigation when they occur. For a history of the case, including many official court documents, interested parties may visit

Litigations are just one portion of the worldwide milkshed.

Southeast Milk Litigation: Dean Payment #3 Authorized

Sun Photo by Phil GentryFederal Court House

A Court Order, entered this morning, Oct. 16th, at the Federal Courthouse in Greeneville, TN, in the Sixth District of U.S. Federal Court, authorizes distribution of Dean Settlement Payment #3 in the Southeast Milk Litigation.

A motion requesting authorization of this distribution, number 3 of 5 total, was filed with the Court on July 24, 2014. Several additional motions and responses were filed following this motion, which asked the Court for clarification concerning a claimant’s eligibility to receive Settlement Funds.

This request was filed on behalf of a party who became a board member of one of the defendant co-ops following the original Dean Foods/SMA Settlement Agreement, but before the DFA payment schedule was finalized.

As a part of the original Settlement Agreements, board members of the defendant co-ops were excluded from eligibility to receive settlement funds. The Court had to review and evaluate several lengthy documents before entering today’s Order.

Rust Consulting, the claims administrator, can now begin processing the checks and mailing them to Class Members. Members can expect to receive an amount similar to the checks they received in September of 2013.

Following this payment cycle, there will be two additional payments left in the Dean Foods Settlement sector of the SE Milk Litigation. Those payments are scheduled to occur in 2015 and 2016. The Dean Settlement payments were allocated in this manner:
a.) Payment 1 – 40% of total over 5-year payment period (Received by class members of January of 2013)
b.) Payment 2 – 15% of total (Received by class members in September/Early Fall of 2013)
c.) Payment 3 – 15% of total (Authorized Oct, 16, 2014; should be received by Nov. 2014)
d.) Payment 4 – 15% of total (Expected Fall of 2015)
e.) Payment 5 – 15% of total (Expected Fall of 2016) (Final Payment in Dean Foods Settlement)

Below are the four pages in today’s court order. These pages make references to several predecessor documents in the litigation, some of which may be found at the official website,





Dean Foods Payment #3 in SE Litigation – Motion Filed; Process Begins

Sun Photo by Phil Gentry Federal Court House

A motion has been filed by Plaintiff’s Attorneys with US District Court in Greeneville, TN to distribute Payment #3 in the Dean Foods Settlement of the Southeast Milk Litigation.  The motion, filed on July 24, includes some adjustments for previous payments, notes some requests for inclusion in the Settlement fund by a few latecomers, and the request of one party to be excluded for religious reasons. 


Judge Ronnie Greer, the presiding judge in the Class Action Litigation, must first review and approve the motion before the claims Administrator, Rust Consulting, can begin cutting and mailing checks to class members.


If this payment process follows the time standards established by previous payment schedules, producers should be able to expect checks in their mailboxes within a six-week time frame, by late August or early September, if not before.  The only hold-up to that time frame would occur if a class member engaged a third-party attorney for collection purposes, or if there are any unexpected legal challenges filed at this point.


$20 Million has been placed in an Escrow Account by Dean Foods per the payment schedule outlined in Settlement documents.  The net settlement fund, which will be distributed to producers, will be the remainder of what is left after approved payments to attorneys and various related administration costs are deducted. 


The total Dean Foods Settlement amounted to $140 Million dollars, of which $80 Million has already been distributed. This payment will bring that total to $100 Million, leaving $40 million to be distributed in increments of $20 Million each, in the years 2015 and 2016.


The monies will be distributed to over 6,000 approved class members, current and previous dairy farmers who operated in the Southeast United States in Federal Milk Market Orders 5 (Appalachian) and FMMO 7 (Southeast).  According to court documents, eligible producers would have been in operation in a time frame beginning Jan. 1, 2001 until the settlements claims deadline.


There is no need for producers to file or fill out any additional paperwork or claims forms at this time.


The amount of the payment a producer should expect in this payment cycle will be similar to, but likely not exactly equal, to the payment received last September from the 2nd Dean Foods Settlement Payment.


The Dean Foods Settlement, finalized in 2012, was combined with the Settlements of defendants Southern Marketing Agency and James Baird, and was the first of two settlements reached in this historic food industry class action litigation. 


Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. and several related defendants, settled in January of 2013, and producers received one-time settlement checks in December 2013 and January 2014 out of an initial $140 Million Settlement Fund.  There are two potential payments left per terms of the DFA Settlement, dependent on utilization figures in FMMOs 5 and 7 in designated time periods.  There will be an update on those payments in the near future.


Background and Additional information may be found at this website:

A copy of the 183-page motion may be found here.

SE Milk Litigation: Court Approves Settlement Funds to be Paid to Farmers

Image(Greeneville, TN)  A simple 4-page Court Order, a culmination point for one of the most complex farm and food class action litigations in United States history, will return $85 Million dollars to Southeast dairy farm communities in the coming weeks.


In an Order entered on December 11, 2013, US District Judge J. Ronnie Greer approved the disbursement of the DFA Settlement Funds in the Southeast Milk Litigation, following a Motion filed by Plaintiff’s Attorneys for the Dairy Farmer Class on November 26, 2013.   The litigation is based in US District Court, Greeneville Division, Eastern District of Tennessee, in the Sixth Federal Circuit.


With that Order, checks can now be cut and distributed to 6,086 class members who will receive an average of $14,072.31 each.  However, if farmers elected to use third-party representation, those farmers will receive anywhere from 15% to 30% less, depending on the percentage of fees charged by the third-party filer they elected to use.   


Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., (DFA) and related entities National Dairy Holdings, LP (NDH), Dairy Marketing Services, LLC (DMS), Mid-Am Capital, LLC, and Gary Hanman entered into a Settlement Agreement in the class action lawsuit on January 17, 2013, and which was filed with the Court on January 21, 2013.   


They were the last remaining defendants to settle in the complex litigation, originally filed in July of 2007, a tenure of six and one-half years. Other defendants Dean Foods, Southern Marketing Agency (SMA), and James Baird finalized their settlement agreements in February of 2012, with final approval by the Court in June of 2012.  In the language of all settlements, none of the defendants admitted guilt to the allegations of antitrust and price-fixing for the purpose of depressing prices paid to dairy farmers in Federal Milk Marketing Orders 5 and 7, respectively the Appalachian and Southeast orders.


The settlement agreement for each defendant varies in the terms of the total monetary payments, the terms, timing, and length of the payout schedules, and the conduct changes in the marketplace which will take place over several years.  The court retains enforcement and jurisdiction of the Settlement agreements until the last activities per the agreements are expected to occur by the year 2016.


The current DFA Gross Settlement Fund totaled $140 Million Dollars, equal to the Dean Settlement Amount.  However, the Dean Food Settlement Funds will be distributed over annual payments until the fall of 2016, while DFA elected to borrow funds and make a one-time payment to settle the lawsuit.  Honoring the Settlement Agreement, DFA placed the $140 Million in an escrow account in February, 2013.  Any interest accrued by the escrow fund is accounted for in the distribution.


In keeping with the normal standards of Federal Class Action lawsuits of this nature, attorneys’ fees and expenses (thirty-three and one-third percent contingency), claims administrator expenses, certain miscellaneous expenses, and payments to named plaintiffs were deducted from the gross settlement fund to result in the net settlement fund of $85,644,095.34.


In accordance with Class Action procedure, a Fairness Hearing for the Plaintiffs/Farmer Class to make comments was held on April 3, 2013, with Final Approval of the DFA Settlement entered on the Court’s file on May 17, 2013.  The Order of Approval had to survive an appeals time frame, and the Claims Administrator had to satisfy the Court’s requirements for meticulous audit and accounting procedures  before the funds could be paid to class members.


Through the spring, summer, and fall, Claims Administrator Rust Consulting received claims forms, and conducted audits of the claims submitted.


There is a good possibility, but not a guarantee, that Class members will receive these checks before the end of the year.    With the first Dean Foods/SMA Settlement payment issued in January, the  Order for Disbursement was filed on January 8, and many farmers received checks beginning two weeks later, on January 22.  With the second Dean payment, there was a month before checks were received following the Order.


In a separate portion of the DFA & Related Settlement Agreements, there were approximately 50 documents, a portion of the many confidential documents under seal during the course of the litigation, which the defendants agreed to finally open to the public.  Many dairy industry stakeholders across the country have felt the information contained in those documents was as important as the monetary settlements.  Those documents have yet to be opened, and it is unknown when they will be.


Too, there were terms in the Settlement Agreement concerning the public announcement of salaries of key DFA management and compensation for board members to be announced.  Those announcements depended on actions of the applicable councils and committees within the DFA membership itself hinging on annual meeting dates.   It is anticipated those actions should be resolved during the winter and spring of 2014.


Appropriate court documents and additional information should be appearing on the Litigation website,, in the coming days.

SE Milk Litigation – Payment Schedule Updates


I, along with many other producer organizations, have been receiving questions regarding “When will the DFA Settlement Monies be received by farmers?” The answer: NOT anytime soon, and NOT until the proper reviews have been completed by first, the official Claims Administrator, Rust Consulting, followed by reviews and approvals of their work and official report by THE COURT!

As of Monday, August 19, an additional round of audit letters were received by several class members/producers in several states from Rust Consulting, the Claims Administrator. These letters were checking pounds claims discrepancies reported by Class members ranging from only a view pounds to several hundred thousand pounds. One producer reported that a phone call to Rust is all it took to correct the requested information.

However, that letter does state a response deadline (to Rust Consulting) of September 16 for verifying or correcting the information. Provided there is not another round of audit letters, and observing the January 2013 Dean Settlement payment process as an example, it is predicted that it will be late October AT THE EARLIEST before DFA Settlement Checks can be expected. Any delays will delay checks even further.

If anyone tells a producer to ‘expect payments anytime soon,” ask where they are getting their information. Unless that source can provide documents from the Court’s record, they are citing no official source. Speculation and ‘country-store discussions’ are not proper in this process!

The COURT is supervising this process, under the guidance of long-established Federal Court Rules. Documents filed on the Court’s record are the only source of accurate information, and are made public when there is official action. Here is the general sequence of events which will occur before checks can finally be issued:

1. The first step has been taken with the filing of a Motion requesting Payment #2 in the Dean Foods Settlement.
2. Requests were made in that document to alter some of the pounds claimed in the Dean Settlement, which in turn may affect the final allocation of pounds to an individual claimant in the DFA Settlement.
3. Those requests must be reviewed and approved by the Court before proceeding to the next step – the filing of a Motion requesting the Disbursement of the DFA Settlement Monies. Rust Consulting must complete their work before that Motion is filed.
4. Since the DFA Settlement will involve some substantial payments, and will be dispensed at one time, every care must be taken to make sure the pounds, and resulting monies, are allocated as fairly as possible and to the Court’s satisfaction before the Judge will approve issuing checks to producers.

To clear up a couple of other ongoing questions:
1.) The settlement checks will not be coming directly from DFA (Dairy Farmers of America. In accordance with Court procedure, DFA placed $140 Million in an escrow account earlier this year. The interest accrued by that fund becomes part of the Settlement fund. The eventual checks will come from Rust Consulting, Claims Administrator.

2.) There is no word yet on when the sealed documents, which DFA agreed to open to the public per terms of the Settlement Agreement, will be available for public review.

Please, Please, be patient. Most events in this case are not our area of expertise, are defined by Rules of Federal Court and process, and are dependent upon work performed by others, and are quite frankly, out of our control. News of important events concerning payments will be distributed as quickly as it becomes available. This is a complex legal event, and while the finish line is hopefully in sight, it is still a legal event, and the final outcome can be determined by a variety of factors.

(Note: photo at top is Greeneville, TN Federal Courthouse, the site of the hearings in the Southeast Milk Litigation, now in its sixth year.)

DFA Subclass Litigation – Trial now Nov.

ImageDairy Farmers and Class Members living in Federal Orders 5 & 7 have begun receiving Class Notices and Opt-Out Notices in regards to the DFA Recertification Subclass in the historic Class Action Southeast Milk Litigation.

In layman’s terms, DFA rank-and-file members in Federal Orders 5 & 7 are now eligible to receive damages – should any come via settlement, injunctive relief, or award by a jury – from their own co-op. These Class members will also have to meet certain standards specfied by the Court in a Class definition.

This is in accordance with the Court’s ruling on June 1st, 2012 following a series of motions and responses by attorneys for dairy farmer plaintiffs and defendant attorneys for DFA corporate businesses – Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.;  Mid-Am Capital, LLC;  Dairy Marketing Services, LLC;  National Dairy Holdings, LP; and an individual, Gary Hanman, former CEO of DFA.  This series of litigation activity was completed with a Hearing for Oral Arguments for Recertification on April 17th, followed by entry of the Judge’s ruling six weeks later.

Complete information, in a question and answer format, can be found by clicking this link:

The Court’s reason for the recertification can be summed up in one sentence found in the Order: “Plaintiffs have offered substantial proof that the alleged conspiracy has injured all members of the independent farmer subclass and the DFA farmer subclass.”

The Opt-Out option should be taken only if a Class Member/Claimant does not wish to receive any future settlement monies, or monies awarded at trial should a jury find actions of the DFA-related businesses did indeed harm the Southeast dairy community, and to what degree (signaled by the amount of dollar rewards).

Needless to say, DFA filed a petition to appeal that ruling with the Sixth Circuit.  Due to that action, the trial scheduled for July 10th has been continued to November 6th (Election Day).  Should the appeals court deny the petition, the Class stands and trial proceeds with the entire class intact.  Litigation  will proceed with Independent Farmers as plaintiffs irregardless of the decision of the Appeals court concerning DFA members.

More information about the entire Class Action is publicly available at the official Class Website,

This DFA recertification segment of the litigation follows a previous $145 Million Settlement by defendants Dean Foods, Southern Marketing Agency, and James Baird.  The settlement also included some forms of injunctive relief. This Settlement received Final Approval from the Court on Friday, June 15th.

Audits of claims forms are being conducted now by Rust Consulting.  Those claims forms were submitted during March and April to Rust. It will likely be later this fall before payments to farmers begin.

Legal events, although generally considered unpleasant or controversial, are a part of the Worldwide Milkshed. Sometimes they are the only course of action left for a farmer to get answers about events and companies whose ultimate responsibility should be to ‘protect the farmer’s income.’  With the farmer’s income protected, a consumer will have more peace-of-mind about domestic food security, because farmland will have more certainty about financial sustainability.

Lawsuits or judgments can serve to change the course of the way milk is priced to the farmer, or hold accountable businesses and individuals in their practices that ultimately affect the sustainability of the farmer – the person where a Milkshed begins.