Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Sharp Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and five other makers of liquid crystal display panels used in computers and televisions agreed to pay $538.6 million to settle antitrust claims by indirect purchasers.
Earlier this month, the panel makers agreed to pay $388 million to settle price-fixing claims by direct buyers of the products as part of a series of cases consolidated in federal court in San Francisco. Under the new agreement, about $501 million will be available for partial refunds to consumers and about $37 million to compensate governments and other public entities for damages, according to a court filing dated Dec. 23.
The companies allegedly fixed prices of thin-film liquid crystal display panels, driving up prices for purchasers of televisions, notebook computers and monitors from 1999 to 2006, according to a class action, or group, lawsuit filed in 2007.
“We think that the amount of the settlement, along with the injunction the defendants had to agree to, will prevent price-fixing by these powerful companies in the consumer electronics industry,” Joseph Alioto, a lawyer for the class- action plaintiffs, said in a telephone interview. “The only way they pay attention to the law is to have to pay money.”
The attorneys general of eight states, including Florida, California and New York, were part of the settlement agreements with the manufacturers.
“Price-fixing is detrimental to Florida’s consumers, governmental agencies, and the economy,” Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general, said in a statement. “I am pleased that we will be able to return funds to those who were harmed by this illegal and deceptive behavior.”
New York taxpayers may receive as much as $11 million from the settlement, according to a release from the state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman.
Besides the $538.6 million settlement of the antitrust claims, five of the companies also agreed to pay more than $14 million in civil fines and penalties to New York, according to the statement from Schneiderman.
“This price-fixing scheme manipulated the playing field for businesses that abide by the rules, and left consumers to pay artificially higher costs for televisions, computers and other electronics,” Schneiderman said in the statement.
Lawyers representing Samsung and Sharp didn’t return messages seeking comment on the settlement.
Samsung agreed to pay $240 million in the settlement, the highest figure. The second-biggest amount, $115.5 million, will be paid by Sharp. The other companies in this agreement are Chimei, Chunghwa, Epson, Hannstar and Hitachi.
Alioto said he believed the $539 million settlement was the largest ever for consumers in a class-action price-fixing case.
A U.S. Justice Department investigation that led to guilty pleas by LG Display Co., Chunghwa Picture Tubes and Sharp preceded the litigation. The companies agreed in 2008 and 2009 to pay $585 million in criminal fines, the U.S. said.
Litigation will continue against companies that didn’t agree to the class-action settlement, including LG, Toshiba and AU Optronics, according to the statement from Bondi. Bondi’s suit against those defendants is scheduled to go to trial in November 2012.
The class-action suit in California is set for trial in April 2012, according to a court filing.
Alioto said the class-action defendants are seeking more than $2 billion in damages in that jury trial in San Francisco. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston will preside.
This settlement followed the exchange of “more than 7.8 million documents totaling more than 40 million pages” and more than 100 depositions, lawyers said in the Dec. 23 filing requesting preliminary approval of the accord.
The other states involved in the settlement are Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The case is In Re TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litigation, 07-01827, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Francisco).
--With assistance from Karen Gullo in San Francisco. Editors: Mary Romano, Charles Carter
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