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Minn-Chem, Inc. v. Agrium Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
683 F.3d 845 (2012)


Minn-Chem, Inc. and other American potash buyers (plaintiffs) sued, claiming price-fixing by seven entities that controlled 71 percent of the world’s potash supply (defendants). Potash is a potassium-rich mineral salt used primarily in agricultural fertilizers. Reserves lie in only a few regions, with over half the global capacity coming from mines in Canada, Russia, and Belarus. Because potash is the same from any supplier, buyers choose suppliers based mainly on price. The United States is the world’s second-largest potash consumer after China. In 2008 the U.S. consumed over six million tons of potash, over five million tons from imports. Suppliers allegedly formed a cartel that negotiated inflated prices overseas and then used those prices as a benchmark to increase U.S. pricing. Over a five-year period, potash prices increased 600 percent despite U.S. fertilizer consumption remaining relatively steady. The suppliers had ample opportunity to conspire and coordinate their prices as joint venturers and equal shareholders in a company that sold, marketed, and distributed potash worldwide. Executives from the potash suppliers regularly held meetings, visited each other’s plants, and attended conferences together. When global demand for potash declined, one supplier after another closed mines or implemented cutbacks, collectively removing a half million tons of potash from the market. The supply restriction created shortages that forced China to accept price increases. Shortly afterward, the suppliers implemented similar price increases globally. The suppliers moved to dismiss the suit, arguing the claims did not satisfy Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (FTAIA) requirements. The district court refused to dismiss but certified its ruling to allow an immediate interlocutory appeal. A panel of Seventh Circuit judges voted to reverse. The Seventh Circuit then reheard the case en banc.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Wood, J.)

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