Northeast dairy farmers paid in class action lawsuit

Thousands of Northeast dairy farmers are receiving their share of a $50 million settlement, nearly nine years after some farmers filed a class-action lawsuit against a national dairy marketing cooperative.

Dairy farmers of America this week paid an average of $4,000 to nearly 9,000 farms to settle a lawsuit that accused the marketing group of trying to drive down milk prices.

The 2009 class-action lawsuit charged Dairy Farmers of America; its marketing arm, Dairy Marketing Services; and Dallas-based Dean Foods with working together to monopolize the market for raw milk in the Northeast.

Dean Foods agreed to a separate $30 million settlement in 2011.

The deals covered farmers in Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

"I'm still heaving a big sigh of relief that the checks did finally come out," said Alice Allen, one of the original dairy farmers who sued.

The process has been contentious with some farmers opposed to the settlement, saying it isn't enough and doesn't change DFA's behavior. Some appealed the deal and others opted out.

"It's a tragic failure of our justice system to protect the American dairy supply and to preserve the American dairy farmer," said Claudia Haar, who with her husband, farms in West Edmeston, New York.

The settlement creates and funds an independent advisory council member for four years to review the financial records of DFA and DMS.

It also establishes and funds a farmer ombudsperson for five years to investigate any complaints and creates guidelines for dairy farmers to terminate their relationship with DFA or DMS without penalty.

A DFA official did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. In 2016 when a judge approved the settlement DFA spokeswoman Monica Massey said the group believed the allegations were without merit, but was pleased with the settlement approval because litigation is both costly and distracting.