LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Both sides in the ongoing right-to-repair antitrust case against John Deere are getting closer to resolving a dispute on a records request by a group of farmer plaintiffs ahead of a December court date.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Central Illinois is considering several motions including one by John Deere for a judgement on the pleadings. The motion essentially asks the court to rule on the facts already presented before a trial can be held.
In addition, there is an ongoing discovery dispute in the case. The parties spent most of the summer negotiating a request by the plaintiffs to receive a cadre of documents and other materials from John Deere.
More than 17 farmers filed class-action lawsuits in numerous states, alleging Deere violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and are seeking damages for paying for repairs from 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.
The parties filed two status reports, one in September and one in October, detailing what documents have been provided to the plaintiffs. According to a status report filed on Wednesday, the court has scheduled a Dec. 12 status hearing.
The plaintiffs asked Deere for diagnostic and error codes and other information on more than 8,500 John Deere tractors. Attorneys for the company contended it was not feasible to provide all the information because it would have to be done manually.
John Deere agreed to provide the information on a representative sample of tractors that cover about 25 models. The company said in a court filing the "burden and cost" for the company would be "immense."
Though more states are considering right-to-repair legislation there is a growing call for Congress to act on a national level.
Agriculture interest groups have been reaching agreements with equipment manufacturers, to ensure increased access of necessary diagnostic and other tools to farmers and independent repair shops.
Despite those efforts, some presenters during a roundtable hosted by the Biden administration on Tuesday said farmers and other consumers continue to struggle to make equipment repairs.
Lina Khan, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), said during the roundtable that the FTC is using its authority to push for more consumer ability to self-repair.
"The FTC has committed itself to using all of our enforcement and policy tools to fight for people's right to repair their own products with a set of enforcement actions," she said.
"Over the past year there's been a groundswell of right-to-repair bills introduced in a whole set of states and the FTC has been grateful for the opportunity to provide input and assistance on several of these efforts. The FTC will continue to activate all of our authorities to fight unlawful repair restrictions and we stand ready to support state and federal policymakers to further codify protections for people's right to repair."
Danny Wood, a northeast Colorado farmer and district director for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said the passage of an agriculture right-to-repair law in Colorado is a good start.
Wood testified in front of the Colorado House and Senate agriculture committees in support of the Colorado law.
Colorado became the first state last April to pass a right-to-repair bill into law specifically targeting ag equipment.
The law requires farm equipment manufacturers to share access to all materials needed by farmers and independent shops to repair tractors, combines and other farm equipment.
Similar legislation has been introduced in at least 11 states this year.
This week, the state of Michigan moved one step closer to passing a similar measure. On Wednesday the Michigan House Agriculture Committee passed the Agricultural Equipment Repair Act.
"I feel strongly that we need to make this a national policy to drive the point home and make sure manufacturers follow the letter of the law as intended," Wood said during the roundtable.
"Making a strong right to repair the standard across the whole country will be good for farmers everywhere."
Wood talked about a repair problem he had with his equipment while harvesting wheat.
"The first day we went to harvest wheat with it came up on the monitor saying there was a problem with the diesel exhaust fluid system," he said.
Wood said he called a service dealer and was told it would be five days before someone could come to the farm to check it out.
When the technician arrived, they found a cracked set of tubes keeping the engine from running properly. Wood said he was then told it could be another five days for the parts to arrive, which would then require him to set another appointment.
Altogether, Wood said, he would have waited for about two weeks with the combine sitting idle in an unharvested field. Instead, he said he bought and installed the tubes himself, risking the voiding of his warranty and the loss of about $80,000 a day in crop revenues.
"Farmers are not people that like to rely on others, we like to fix things ourselves," he said.
"The right to repair will finally give us the ability to do that and save farmers thousands of dollars and valuable time."
Read more on DTN:
"Colorado Passes Ag Right-to-Repair Bill," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"Who Should Fix Ag Equipment Emissions?," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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