Multi-Defendant Antitrust Litigation: Lessons Learned from In re: Automotive Parts Antitrust Litigation
Last Friday, in the latest development in the massive auto parts antitrust litigation, the State of California settled with Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd. and related companies regarding their sale of wire harness systems and heater control panels at allegedly supracompetitive prices. (For prior posts on this case, see here and here.) Sumitomo did not admit to any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay California over $800,000 and cooperate with California’s litigation efforts against the many other defendants in the case. Sumitomo and its related entities are the only auto parts defendants named in the State of California’s complaint.
Antitrust standing is one of the most beguiling concepts in antitrust law, but it is a hurdle that a plaintiff must negotiate if its claim can proceed. This week, the Second Circuit provided some clarity to the doctrine when it affirmed a district court decision dismissing the antitrust claims of end users of aluminum for lack of antitrust standing in In re Aluminum Warehousing Antitrust Litigation.
Certifying a class of direct purchasers of sheet metal parts alleging claims under section 1 of the Sherman Act, Judge Lynn Adelman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin focused on what it means for common questions to predominate in an antitrust class action.
Fifth Circuit Considers Independent Conduct in Vertical Agreements to Facilitate Horizontal Conspiracy
On November 25, 2015, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the $156 million antitrust judgment in MM Steel, L.P. v. JSW Steel (USA) Incorporated; Nucor Corporation, upholding a jury verdict that found one defendant steel manufacturer (JSW Steel) liable for participation in an illegal conspiracy to block distributor MM Steel from entering the market. The Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict as to defendant Nucor, another steel manufacturer. In so doing, the Fifth Circuit identified evidence that does—and does not—tend to exclude the possibility of independent conduct for purposes of finding a violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act. The court also underscored that per se liability (and not the rule of reason) attaches to horizontal conspirators’ use of vertical agreements to shut competitors out of the market.
Today we bring you the first part of our second biennial update on DOJ criminal actions in the cartel area. This has been a busy six months for the Antitrust Division, so we are breaking this update up into installments. Today, we look at auto parts.
This is the first in what we expect to be a series of updates on DOJ criminal actions in the cartel area. Here, we look at highlights over the last six months in the DOJ’s investigations of the auto parts industry, LIBOR, and municipal real estate auctions.
FTC Commissioner Julie Brill discussed the agency’s competition and consumer protection priorities in her keynote address last Thursday at the ABA’s Antitrust Fall Forum at the National Press Club in Washington. Brill led off with an ode to the antitrust ideals of the Progressive Era – with plenty of references to Justice Brandeis – and focused primarily on health care efforts, emphasizing that the FTC and the Affordable Care Act have the same goals of “promoting high quality and cost-effective health care.”
Developments in the Capacitor Cartel Litigation: Class Counsel Appointed and the Antitrust Division Intervenes
In July, we wrote about two putative class action lawsuits alleging that Panasonic, Samsung, and other electronics manufacturers had formed a cartel to boost prices of certain electronic capacitors. Since then, the cases have been consolidated, interim lead co-counsel have been appointed, the Antitrust Division has confirmed its own investigation, and the court has set a preliminary case schedule.
On October 23, 2014, the Second Circuit agreed to hold an appeal in abeyance until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on an issue of appellate procedure in Gelboim v. Bank of America Corp. (formerly known as In re LIBOR-Based Financial Instruments Antitrust Litigation).
We have written extensively about the scope of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvement Acts and the extraterritorial reach of U.S. antitrust laws. Now, the scope of the U.S. antitrust laws has arisen in a different context: the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”).
In the seminal decision, Aspen Skiing Co. v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp 472 U.S. 585, 611 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a jury verdict for a plaintiff on a Section 2 claim and set forth the standard for unilateral refusal-to-deal claims. More recent U.S. Supreme Court and Second Circuit cases suggest that Aspen Skiing may reflect the “outer boundary” of liability under Section 2. What are the markers of that boundary?
Earlier this week, India’s competition regulator─the Competition Commission of India (“CCI”)─raided two offices of JCB India Limited (“JCB”), a UK-based manufacturer of construction equipment. This raid marks the first time that CCI has exercised its search-and-seizure power under the Competition Act, 2002.
As we noted earlier this month, one factor that may contribute to the increase in criminal antitrust fines over the past ten years is the Antitrust Division’s focus on anticompetitive conduct that is international in scope. Indeed, the Antitrust Division’s chart listing Sherman Act violations yielding a corporate fine of $10 million or more shows that nearly all of the investigations resulting in fines greater than $10 million are international.
Over the past ten years, criminal antitrust fines have increased dramatically: they totaled only $107 million in fiscal year (“FY”) 2003, but increased to a high of $1.14 billion in FY-2012 and remained relatively steady at $1.02 billion in FY-2013. As criminal fines increase, companies face increasing exposure for conduct that allegedly runs afoul of the U.S. antitrust laws. What is driving the marked increase in potential penalties?
A pair of putative class actions has been filed in the past two weeks charging Panasonic, Samsung, and other electronics manufacturers with forming a cartel to boost prices in the sagging market for certain electronics capacitors. The actions follow press reports that officials in the United States and China are investigating the alleged cartel and that at least one manufacturer, who has not yet been identified, has applied for leniency with the Department of Justice.