Amicus Briefs

Brief of Amicus Curiae by Open Markets in Support of Plaintiffs-Appellants in Llacua, et al. v. Western Range Association, et al.

September 16, 2019

Open Markets filed an amicus brief in support of thousands of immigrant shepherds who allege they are the victims of a cartel among ranchers in the Western United States. The shepherds – here on a guest worker program from Peru – in 2015 sued the ranchers and their associations for colluding to suppress their wages. The federal district court in Colorado dismissed the shepherds’ antitrust claims, ruling that they failed to show the existence of an agreement among the ranchers not to compete for the shepherds’ labor. A three-judge panel on the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal.

In this case, the Peruvian shepherds allege that the ranchers agreed among themselves to not make wage offers higher than the relevant minimum wage to the immigrant shepherds, a clear violation of the Sherman Act. The Sherman Act protects sellers of goods and services (including workers, who sell labor) from powerful purchasers. Under well-established precedent, collusion among horizontal rivals, whether sellers or buyers, is illegal, regardless of the vehicle through which the collusion is implemented. Accordingly, the Supreme Court has outlawed employers’ efforts to suppress wages through concerted action. By ignoring decades of Supreme Court precedent, the Tenth Circuit Court’s decision undercuts the Sherman Act’s protection of workers and other sellers and threatens to legalize employer cartels—indeed all cartels—conducted through a joint venture.

The plaintiffs, shepherds from Peru who came to the United States on temporary agricultural visas, perform essential work for the multimillion-dollar American sheep ranching industry. They allege that they are the victims of an employer cartel orchestrated by sheep ranchers and their associations, the defendants in this case. Using the Western Range Association and Mountain Plains Agricultural Services, sheep ranchers in several Western states collusively suppressed wage offers made to the shepherds. The defendants robbed the shepherds of an opportunity to earn competitive wages for their demanding and skilled work.

Read the full brief here.