Last October, District Court Judge Wayne Andersen, through a direct verdict, dismissed charges against the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) brought by a group of soybean farmers.
The dispute, culminating in the trial after weaving its way through the court system for 13 years, centered around an infamous emergency order issued by CBOT in July of 1989.
How did CBOT come to the emergency order? In 1988, the United States experienced a severe drought. A poor crop reduced soybean stocks to a 12-year low. The following year, market prices in east Arkansas were in the range of $7.50 per bushel. Many farmers were still holding 1988 soybeans, expecting the prices to go even higher. All indications were prices were heading up due to short supplies up and down the pipeline.
Then in July, CBOT claimed the market was artificial and they had to take steps to correct it. Anyone holding large contracts for soybeans had to liquidate them. After the order was given, soybean prices dropped 40 cents almost immediately. A group of farmers quickly filed suit.
Following dismissal of the charges and end of the trial last October, plaintiffs promised an appeal. A brief supporting the appeal is now ready and will soon be filed with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
“There is no timeframe on when a decision could come down. It could be months or over a year. There's no telling,” says Harvey Joe Sanner, one of the original plaintiff's in the suit.
The 70-plus-page appeal brief is laced with accusations that Judge Andersen performed his judicial tasks shoddily and plaintiffs deserve a new trial as a result.
“When you read the judge's ruling, it's amazing how some of his conclusions were reached,” says Sanner, a farmer and farm activist out of Des Arc, Ark.
The brief points out several inconsistencies in the CBOT case. For instance, while arguing repeatedly that CBOT has no impact on farmers in the cash market, CBOT officials also claim their board is the premier price discovery system for the entire world.
But while interesting, such claims won't win plaintiffs a new trial. What will get a new trial is convincing the appellate court that Andersen made decisions and drew conclusions that should have been the responsibility of the jury. To that end, the brief hammers Andersen's “mistakes.”
“I think our lawyers have done a hell of a job in laying out our case in this appeal,” says Sanner. “This brief shows that the jury should have gotten this case.”
Following the dismissal, Sanner says, plaintiff attorneys did discuss the case with jurors. At that point, several were undecided with the rest evenly split between the sides.
“My opinion is that CBOT threw so much minutia and smoke at the jury and judge that it thoroughly confused them,” says Sanner. “From what I saw and heard in the courtroom, I think the judge's thoughts were, ‘Look, this might not have been right and a few farmers were hurt. But it was a long time ago, the market wasn't impacted for too long, so let's just go on.’”
Appeals are not unknown to Sanner and his plaintiff comrades. The case has been before appellate courts three times. Each time lower court decisions were partially or completely overturned.
Editor's note: to see the plaintiff's brief, please see http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/efn/efns.fwx?submit=showbr&caseno=02-3844&shofile=02-3844_001.pdf