Court: Judge was right to allow evidence from other suits against Cargill


Capital Press

Jurors were not unfairly biased against the Cargill agribusiness company in a trial over dairy feed trade secrets, according to a federal appellate court.

Cargill had claimed three former employees stole trade secrets related to feed manufacturing and used the information to advance their own company, Progressive Dairy Solutions.

A jury in California rejected Cargill's allegations, but the company appealed that verdict.

According to Cargill's attorney, a federal judge in the case abused his discretion by allowing jurors to hear evidence that tainted their view of the company.

Farmers in Idaho and Louisiana had filed legal complaints against Cargill, claiming the company improperly substituted ingredients in dairy feed.

Those allegations were unrelated to the trade secrets lawsuit and should not have been presented to the jury, Cargill's attorney said.

An attorney for Progressive Dairy Solutions argued the ingredient substitution claims were relevant to the former employees' defense.

Cargill claimed the former employees left the company due to greed, so they had a right to offer an alternative reason for quitting -- in this case, customer dissatisfaction, the defendants' attorney said.

On Jan. 19, three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the judge had not committed a legal error by admitting evidence from the other lawsuits.

"In deciding whether defendants -- all of whom testified at trial -- had engaged in a conspiracy to steal information, property and clients from their longtime employer, the jury could properly hear evidence regarding defendants' motivations for leaving," the appellate panel ruled.

Cargill is a manufacturer and marketer of livestock feed, food products, fuel and other goods based in Minneapolis, Minn.

During its 2009 fiscal year, the company earned more than $3 billion in profit on total sales of nearly $117 billion.

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