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DOJ Announces Procedural Reforms Seeking to Resolve Merger Investigations within 6 Months of Filing

Today, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim announced a series of reforms with the express goal to resolve most merger investigations within six months of filing. The reforms seek to place the burden of faster reviews not only on the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), but also on the merging parties.

The DOJ will require fewer custodians, take fewer depositions, and commit to shorter time-periods in exchange for merging parties providing detailed information to the DOJ early in the investigation in some cases before a Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) filing is made. AAG Delrahim believes that merging parties need to avoid “hid[ing] the eight ball” and work with the DOJ in good faith to remedy transactions that raise competitive concerns.

By announcing these reforms, the DOJ acknowledges that merger reviews are taking longer in recent years. AAG Delrahim cited a recent report noting that the length of merger reviews has increased 65 percent since 2013 and that the average length of a significant merger review is now roughly 11 months. AAG Delrahim believes an assortment of factors contribute to the increasing length of reviews including larger quantities of documents produced during a Second Request, increasing numbers of transactions with international implications, and the DOJ’s insistence on an upfront buyer for most consent orders. (more…)




Poultry Merger Challenge

by Gregory E. Heltzer and Carrie G. Amezcua

On May 10, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil lawsuit against George’s Inc. to block its $3M acquisition of Tyson  Foods Inc.’s, Harrisonburg, Virginia chicken processing plant, showing that deals of all sizes face scrutiny.  This case also continues the trend of challenges to non-reportable transactions by both the DOJ and FTC, as well as the DOJ’s current focus on the agriculture sector. It is also notable because the DOJ is alleging that the merger leads to monopsony power, a relatively rare allegation, but one that is increasingly used in challenging deals in the agriculture business.

The DOJ began investigating the acquisition when it was announced in mid-March, and issued Civil Investigative Demands to the parties on April 18, 2011.  Despite their awareness of the DOJ’s concerns and ongoing data and document productions, the parties consummated the deal.

George’s and Tyson are two of only three chicken processors in the Shenandoah Valley.  Chicken processors process and distribute "broilers," which are chickens raised for meat products.  The processors compete for contracts with growers, who care for and raise chicks from the time they are hatched until the time they are ready for slaughter.
 
In its complaint, the DOJ alleges that the relevant product market is the "purchase of broiler grower services from chicken farmers."  The DOJ then asserts that, following the proposed merger, chicken farmers would have only a single processor to sell their growing services to – in part because the only other processor in the 50-75 mile range, Pilgrim’s Pride, is at capacity. The DOJ alleges that the consolidation would not only harm grower’s contract prices but also lead to inferior contract terms on other, non-price factors.  The DOJ argues that the relevant geographic market is limited to the Shenandoah Valley because of transportation costs for feed and live birds.

The full complaint can be found on the DOJ website: https://www.justice.gov/atr/cases/f270900/270983.pdf.




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