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A federal judge in Alabama said a jury’s recommendation that Tyson Foods Inc. pay $1.2 billion for manipulating cattle prices “clearly overstates” the company’s liability in the case. Instead, visiting U.S. Senior District Judge Lyle Strom stuck with an earlier decision to base damages in the landmark class action lawsuit on the number of cattlemen affected by Tyson’s actions and the amount of damages per animal. The court could take months to determine those numbers. Strom’s ruling was made public earlier this week by Tyson, the world’s largest beef packer. A jury on Feb. 17 sided with six cattlemen who claimed Tyson used contracts with a select few ranchers to drive down the price of cattle on the open market, or cash market. Before the monthlong trial began, Strom told both parties that he would not enter an “aggregate verdict” for total damage to the cash market for cattle during the class period of February 1994 to October 2002. Attorneys for the cattlemen asked Strom to reconsider after jurors issued their verdict. But Strom reiterated his belief that the $1.2 billion verdict includes some ranchers who sold cattle to Tyson on the cash market and through contracts, and therefore cannot be members of the class. Tyson’s motion to throw out the verdict is still pending before Strom. The suit was filed in 1996 against IBP Inc., which merged with Tyson in 2001. In afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Tyson shares were up 21 cents at $18.18.

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