* Purchasers: 7 potash companies conspired to fix prices
* Purchasers may show alleged cartel link to higher prices
* 7th Circuit had dismissed case last September
* Agrium, Potash Corp of Saskatchewan among defendants
By Jonathan Stempel
June 27 A U.S. federal appeals court revived an
antitrust lawsuit by purchasers of potash that accused seven
major producers of running a global conspiracy to artificially
inflate prices of the crop nutrient, which is used mainly in
Reversing its decision in September, the 7th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in Chicago unanimously said the purchasers may
argue that there was a direct, substantial and reasonably
foreseeable link between the alleged global cartel and a
six-fold increase in U.S. potash prices from 2003 to 2008.
"The allegations suffice, at this stage, to support a
plausible story of concerted action," Judge Diane Wood wrote for
the eight-judge panel on Wednesday.
Defendants include Canada's Agrium Inc and Potash
Corp of Saskatchewan Inc, Minnesota-based Mosaic Co
, and four companies from Russia and Belarus: JSC
Uralkali, JSC Silvinit, JSC Belarusian Potash and JSC
International Potash. Uralkali and Silvinit merged last year.
These companies accounted for about 71 percent of global
potash supply when the case was brought in 2008. The United
States consumed 6.2 million tons of potash that year, of which
5.3 million were imported.
Stephen Shapiro, a lawyer who has represented potash
companies in the case, did not immediately respond to a request
Potash is used by farmers worldwide, and is also used to
make animal feed supplements, glass and soaps.
'REASONABLY PROXIMATE' LINK NEEDED
In the original complaint, purchasers accused the potash
companies of ending years of relative price stability in 2003 by
conspiring to restrict output and boost prices, citing
"parallel" conduct in Brazil, China and India.
Wood agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice that there
need be only a "reasonably proximate" causal link between the
alleged anticompetitive conduct and higher prices to allow a
claim under a 1982 antitrust law governing foreign trade.
She rejected a 2004 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals, which oversees several Western states, that
suggested higher prices would need to be an "immediate
consequence" of the alleged wrongful conduct.
"It is the U.S. authorities or private plaintiffs who have
the incentive - and the right - to complain about overcharges
paid as a result of the potash cartel, and whose interests will
be sacrificed if the law is interpreted not to permit this kind
of case," Wood wrote for the 7th Circuit.
Purchasers in the case included Minn-Chem Inc, Kraft
Chemical Co and several individuals. Bruce Simon, a lawyer who
has represented them, did not immediately respond to a request
The September decision had been issued by a panel of two
judges rather than the normal three, after the third judge had
died the previous month. The two remaining judges joined in
The case is Minn-Chem Inc et al v. Agrium Inc et al, 7th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 10-1712.