INDUSTRY INSIDER | April 23, 2024

Data Delay Slows Right-to-Repair Case

Original Source: DTN

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) — Court proceedings in an antitrust lawsuit filed against John Deere by a group of farmers could be delayed at least another six months as both sides continue to negotiate the release of information in a national right-to-repair case.

Attorneys for a group of more than 17 farmers who sued John Deere in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Illinois have asked the company for structured data available on Deere’s EQUIP system.

The system stores service information about individual equipment owners, including histories of work completed on their John Deere machines, as well as other information.

Last week, those farmers asked the court to modify deadlines as they wait for John Deere to provide the requested data.

The lawsuits allege the company monopolized the repair-service market for John Deere brand agricultural equipment with onboard central computers known as engine control units or ECUs. The plaintiffs have alleged Deere violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and are seeking damages for paying for repairs from Deere dealers beginning on Jan. 12, 2018, to the present.

In their motion to modify deadlines in the case last week, the plaintiffs allege the company has been intentionally delaying the information release.

“Deere is attempting to run the clock out on plaintiffs and deny their experts the time needed to discover and analyze critical structured data concerning Deere and authorized dealer pricing for parts and repair services that are critically important to establishing class-wide damages and antitrust liability,” the farmers said in their motion.

“Plaintiffs have diligently pursued all discovery, including their requests for key structured data, and have efficiently and effectively litigated their claims. Specifically, as described … in Section III. A., plaintiffs have worked for well over a full year to secure the structured data requested in their first set of requests for production. Despite dozens of meet-and-confer calls and related correspondence, Deere has failed to produce much of the structured data requested and required by plaintiffs and their experts.”

The farmers said the delay in data release has been based on Deere’s claim that only authorized Deere dealers could produce the data and the plaintiffs would need to “subpoena each dealer to secure this essential information.”

The plaintiffs’ motion said Deere had possession of the data on its EQUIP system, “but claimed that third-party discovery was necessary because production required dealer authorization.”

The farmers told the court their hired experts need at least six months to analyze the data once released in the lawsuits consolidated in the court on June 1, 2022.

The plaintiffs made their first request for information on March 15, 2023, according to the motion. What followed were seven video conferences between both sides and a motion to compel filed by the farmers on May 18, 2023.

Then in early August 2023, according to the motion, the plaintiffs served document subpoenas to more than 20 authorized Deere dealers. Collectively, those dealers operate more than 700 authorized dealership locations across the country.

The data requested is required to support class certification, “establish class-wide impact and damages” and to prove antitrust claims, according to the motion.

At some point during the past year, Deere informed the plaintiffs that the company would work with individual dealers to help provide the information requested if the dealers were unable to produce it.

On Jan. 7, 2024, the motion said Deere informed the plaintiffs the company had reached an agreement with 16 dealers to provide data from EQUIP.

“Deere informed plaintiffs that it would take anywhere between seven to 10 weeks to write the necessary scripts to pull the data from EQUIP and additional time on top of the script-writing process to conduct quality control and review the data sets before production,” the motion said.

On Jan. 25, 2024, the plaintiffs proposed a six-month extension of the court’s scheduling order.

On Jan. 31, 2024, “Deere countered by proposing a three-month extension without providing any basis for why it believed three months was an appropriate modification to the scheduling order,” the motion said.

Deere’s basis for proposing a three-month extension was that “less time spent on its discovery obligations equated to less interference to Deere’s business,” the plaintiffs said. Then on Feb. 13, 2024, Deere said it would agree to a four-month extension.

“Deere’s proposed four-month extension is simply unworkable for plaintiffs and their experts,” the farmers said in the motion.