John Deere Lawsuits Over “Right to Repair” Consolidated for Pretrial Proceedings

Farmers and small repair shops claim John Deere has illegally monopolized the ability to repair its farm equipment, raising similar allegations of fact and law

A series of John Deere “right to repair” lawsuits will be consolidated before one judge in the federal court system, since they each involve similar class action claims that farmers and small repair shops are prohibited from accessing critical software tools to fix new generation farm equipment sold in recent years.

The John Deere class action claims consumers should have a right to repair equipment they purchased, but claim that the farm equipment giant has equipped its newer model tractors with proprietary software that requires expensive repair costs for services that are only available at certain manufacturer-approved service centers.

Plaintiffs allege John Deere is attempting to monopolize the farm equipment repair market, by prohibiting farmers and small repair shops from access to crucial software repair tools. As a result, the lawsuits claim John Deere is unfairly maximizing profits by restricting the ability for individuals to repair devices on their own, and causing longer downtime of equipment while waiting on approved dealer services. Plaintiffs also argue John Deere often adds clauses that any effort to repair the equipment outside of the use of a John Deere-approved dealer voids any warranties.

John Deere started equipping newer model tractors with onboard central computers, known as engine control units (ECUs), which are critical to the functionality of the machinery. However, the computers require special diagnostic tools and software to fix or clear errors, preventing the tractors from turning on or performing their primary functions, according to claims raised in at least six John Deere right to repair lawsuits in four separate U.S. District Courts.

After hearing oral arguments last month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued a transfer order (PDF) last week, indicating that the litigation will be centralized U.S. District Judge Iain D. Johnston in the Northern District of Illinois, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

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“These putative class actions share factual issues arising from allegations that, through various anticompetitive practices, Deere has monopolized the market for repair and maintenance services for Deere agricultural equipment equipped with engine control units by restricting access to necessary repair-related software and diagnostic tools,” the transfer order states. “The actions assert substantially identical claims under the Sherman Act, along with claims of unjust enrichment or promissory estoppel, and seek identical relief.”

The order states the centralization is appropriate given the common questions of fact and law in which will prevent duplicative discovery, inconsistent pretrial rulings and a waste of judicial resources.

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