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Mikkel Pates, Forum News Service, Published July 26 2013

Offutt wants potato price-fixing lawsuit dismissed

FARGO – Business magnate Ron Offutt has formally denied wrongdoing in a potato price-fixing lawsuit, asking that the case be dismissed or that it go to jury trial.

Offutt is among the defendants in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho by Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. against United Potato Growers of America, its affiliate United Potato Growers of Idaho and other parties.

Plaintiffs allege price-fixing in the fresh potato market.

Offutt’s formal denial offers 406 separate responses, many repetitive. Offutt is founder of R.D. Offutt Co., which has headquarters in Fargo and reputedly is the largest independent potato producer in the nation, at times producing 66,000 acres under irrigation. Most of his potatoes are in processing for frozen products, and relatively few are in the fresh market.

He is connected with the suit primarily because of ownership interest in some dehydration plants.

In the 66-page legal response, amended Wednesday, Offutt says he is “without sufficient information or knowledge to adequately respond regarding the truth” of many of the allegations he says are directed to other defendants in the matter, and denies them.

He is represented by Brian E. McGovern of the McCarthy, Leonard, Kaemmerer L.C., firm in Chesterfield, Mo., and by Albert P. Barker of Barker Rosholt & Simpson LLP of Boise, Idaho.

The case had 442 docket entries as of Thursday. Other defendants have filed similar responses.

Offutt says the complaint “improperly groups all defendants together as part of its allegations.” It says the complaint contains quotes from documents that aren’t provided by exhibits, and that the entire content of any document is needed for context.

“Many of the statements in the complaint are not statements of objective fact, but instead are overly generalized, conclusory or argumentative statements or conclusion of law.”

Among other things, Offutt denies being a member of either UPGA or its affiliate UPGI. He denies that he agreed to any alleged price-fixing scheme or that he participated in a joint venture to “further aid any alleged potato supply reduction efforts.”

Offutt says the defendants are exempt from antitrust claims because they are farmer co-ops and therefore fall under Capper-Volstead Act exemptions. If not, the errors were not “reasonably foreseeable by Offutt” and any damages should be “equitably mitigated,” his response says.

Offutt’s staff said he has been on international travel or otherwise immediately unavailable for comment. A legal spokesman for Offutt has said he is unlikely to talk about the matter that is in litigation.