PHILADELPHIA — The Third US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld a September 2022 ruling by a Delaware Federal District Court allowing Florida-based US Sugar Corp. to buy the Imperial Sugar Co. in a $315 deal that closed in November 2022.  

US Sugar said it was pleased with the decision and would focus on integrating the two companies.  

“Bringing the Savannah refinery, its sugar brands and facilities back into American ownership is good for our employees, our local communities, our customers and our country,” US Sugar said.

Imperial Sugar was previously owned by the Louis Dreyfus Co. US Sugar agreed in March 2021 to buy Imperial Sugar, with its single Savannah, Ga., refinery almost entirely dependent on imported raw sugar.

The US Department of Justice had filed suit to block the purchase, arguing the deal violated US antitrust law, would create a duopoly in the US Southeast, would substantially raise sugar prices and could strain supply chains. The DOJ had asked the court to temporarily block the closing of the deal while it appealed the ruling. That request was earlier denied.

The district court judge, in her initial ruling, cited the government run US sugar program that limits sugar supply and imports as contributing to high sugar prices. The Judge said the DOJ had overlooked the ability of distributors to keep refined sugar prices from getting too high by selling their own supplies. The Appeals court also said the lower court had the discretion to find that the DOJ failed to properly identify which markets would be harmed by the merger.

The appeals court did, however, reverse part of the lower court’s ruling that said the existence of the USDA’s sugar program, or other regulatory schemes, does not inherently mean anti-trust laws don’t apply. Legal analysts said that ruling could be significant in other agricultural cases.