The majority of class-action lawsuits brought against John Deere over the right to repair farm equipment will be heard by a federal court in Illinois, according to an order issued by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on Wednesday.
There are now nine cases consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, including a new lawsuit filed on May 25 by DeLine Farms. DeLine alleges it suffered antitrust injury through a Deere repair services contract.
DeLine operates farms in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi and Tennessee, according to the lawsuit, and owns and operates “hundreds” of John Deere tractors.
According to the order from the multi-jurisdictional panel, the nine lawsuits consolidated in the Illinois court include actions originally filed in the court.
“The majority of the parties support centralization in this district, and it offers a geographically central and readily accessible forum for this nationwide litigation,” the panel said in its order.
“Six of the involved actions are pending in this district. Finally, Deere represents that relevant witnesses and documents will be found at its headquarters in Moline, Illinois, which are reasonably nearby.”
That includes Forest River Farms in North Dakota; Plum Ridge Farms Ltd. v. Deere in Illinois; Daniel Brown, the owner of Otsego Forestry Services in New York; Arkansas-based Eagle Lake Farms Partnership; Virginia-based Lloyd Family Farms and DeLine.
The panel transferred to the Illinois court lawsuits filed by Franklin County, Alabama, farmer Trinity Dale Wells, in a federal court in Alabama; Alfalfa County, Oklahoma, farmer Monty Ferrell filed in a federal court in Oklahoma; and Tennessee, farmer David Underwood from a federal court in Tennessee.
So far, a total of 12 class-action lawsuits have been filed against Deere, including by Burke, Virginia, resident Samantha Casselbury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Central Illinois, and by Greenwood, Minnesota-based Hapka Farms Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
The cases in Minnesota and central Illinois were not part of the consolidation, according to the panel, as the plaintiffs in those cases unsuccessfully argued for consolidation in their respective district courts.
All the cases alleged the company violated the Sherman Act and seek damages for farmers who paid for repairs from John Deere dealers beginning on Jan. 12, 2018, to the present.
The cases allege the company has monopolized the repair service market for John Deere brand agricultural equipment with onboard central computers known as engine control units, or ECUs.
In a statement to DTN, Deere said for more than 180 years, the company has “empowered” customers to maintain and repair their own equipment.
“That’s why we provide tools, parts, training videos, manuals, and remote access for customers to work on their machines,” the company said.
“John Deere equipment is manufactured to the highest engineering standards to maximize performance while protecting the safety and health of our customers and the environment. While we support the customers right to maintain and repair their products, we do not support customers modifying embedded software due to risks related to safety, emissions compliance and the uncertainty it creates in the aftermarket.”
Deere said it already offers a variety of tools to farmers to help maintain and repair their equipment. That includes access to repair manuals, Customer Service ADVISOR, a diagnostic and information tool that customers and independent repair shops can purchase from dealers or online directly from John Deere as of May 2022.
“With this tool, customers can view schematics, diagnostic code definitions, and find other information to make repairs to their own machines,” Deere said.
In addition, the company said it provides JDLink, which connects a machine’s information to the web and can alert customers to issues as they develop and provide other useful information like location and status.
Deere said it also provides Connected Support, which allows dealers to remotely analyze, clear and refresh diagnostic trouble codes in “near real time” to isolate potential issues with a customers’ machines.
The right to repair increasingly has become an issue in agriculture and other industries with state legislatures introducing bills in at least 32 states, including bills in 21 states in 2021. A bill failed to pass in the Nebraska Legislature earlier this year.
Equipment manufacturers currently will not allow farmers the hardware or software needed to diagnose a problem, much less repair it.
So, dealers must send their teams out to the field to diagnose a problem and likely order parts, then come back out to make the repairs. There may be other complications with repairs.
In September 2018, the Equipment Dealers Association, a trade and lobbying group that represents John Deere and other manufacturers, committed to make repair tools, software and diagnostics available to the public by Jan. 1, 2021.
In March 2022, Deere announced the May release of the “Customer Service ADVISOR,” the tool that was to be released for purchase in January 2021.