Cargill and Morton Salt Wednesday said they have settled an antitrust lawsuit over road salt prices filed by the Ohio attorney general’s office.
The two road salt giants together agreed to pay $11.5 million, with Minnetonka-based Cargill ponying up $7.7 million.
Cargill said in a news release that the state of Ohio had originally sought more than $100 million. Settlement talks kicked into gear last month just before a trial was supposed to begin.
Ohio accused Cargill and Chicago-based Morton of conspiring with each other, causing state and local governments to pay higher prices for road salt for about a decade, ending in 2010.
The settlement does not include admission of guilt by either Cargill or Morton.
“From the time the suit was filed in 2012, we have emphatically denied the allegations,” Richard Maxfield, president of Cargill Deicing Technology, said in a statement. “We have always acted ethically and in line with our guiding principles.”
Cargill noted when the suit was filed that Ohio’s Office of the Inspector General, in a January 2011 report on road salt, didn’t support the Ohio attorney general’s allegations. The report failed to find that Cargill and Morton communicated on bids.
However, the inspector general’s report, which followed a nearly two-year investigation, did conclude that Cargill and Morton engaged in anti-competitive behavior through a “duopoly” that cost the state up to $59 million in overcharges.
“This settlement is good for Ohio taxpayers and the local and state governments who serve them,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a press statement. “I am pleased that both Morton and Cargill have agreed to resolve this lawsuit.”
Cargill Deicing Technology, the agribusiness giant’s road salt business, is based in northern Ohio and has a salt mine in Cleveland, as well as mines in Louisiana and New York state.
“The price of road salt is determined by weather and the market fundamentals of supply and demand,” said Cargill’s Maxfield. “In the end, agreeing to a settlement was a prudent business decision to avoid further legal costs and get back to the business of making winter driving safer.”
Morton, in a statement, said the settlement and dismissal of the suit “most expeditiously ends ongoing legal proceedings and expenses.” The company had also strongly denied the suit’s allegations.