Mosaic settles collusion claim

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT
  • Star Tribune
  • January 30, 2013 - 6:35 PM

Mosaic Co. and North America's two other big potash fertilizer producers said Wednesday that they've settled class-action litigation accusing them of collusion, avoiding a trial for the highly concentrated potash industry.

Plymouth-based Mosaic and Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan each agreed to pay $43.75 million, while Alberta-based Agrium Inc. has settled for $10 million. Russian and Belorussian potash producers -- also defendants -- settled earlier for a combined $12.5 million.

The potash producers admit to no wrongdoing in the price-fixing cases, which have been pending since 2008.

"Mosaic chose to settle these claims to avoid the significant costs, burden and distraction of protracted litigation," the company said in a statement. Mosaic is one of the world's largest fertilizer makers.

The settlement comes after a ruling last June by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago. The court said the potash industry giants must face an antitrust lawsuit by fertilizer buyers, reversing an earlier decision that the case be thrown out.

The plaintiffs include 3,000 to 5,000 direct purchasers of potash, from individual farmers to fertilizer wholesalers, said Joe Bruckner, an attorney for the plaintiffs with Lockridge Grindal in Minneapolis.

Minn-Chem, a now-defunct Minnesota fertilizer maker, is one of the original plaintiffs. The size of the financial awards to each plaintiff will vary by the amount of fertilizer each purchased, Bruckner said.

Potash is a mineral crucial in making potassium-based fertilizer. Canada is the world's potash mining hub, and Mosaic -- which until 2011 was majority-owned by Cargill Inc. -- has extensive operations in Saskatchewan.

Russia and Belarus are also big sources of potash. Four companies from that region were sued along with Mosaic, Agrium and Potash Corp.

Together, the seven producers in Canada, Russia and Belarus control about 71 percent of the world's potash supply, plaintiffs say. The potash "cartel" has effectively driven up U.S. prices by restraining global output, they claim.

Bill Doyle, CEO of Potash Corp., said in a news release that such claims "are completely without merit." The settlement, he added, "is another example of the well-documented abuse of class actions in the United States."

But in June, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that the plaintiffs' allegations "suffice, at this stage, to support a plausible story of concerted action" by the potash producers.

The court went on to say that "foreign sellers allegedly created a cartel, took steps outside the United States to drive the price up of a product that is wanted in the United States, and then (after succeeding in doing so) sold that product to U.S. customers."

With that June ruling, the full court of appeals in Chicago overturned a 2011 ruling by a two-judge panel of the same court. A trial date for the potash case had been set for February 2014, Bruckner said.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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