$1.1 Billion Antitrust Payout Moves a Step Closer

The lawyers in San Francisco federal Judge Susan Illston’s  court were happy as clams Thursday.  That’s because they had a lot of clams to be happy about. They are about to win approval for a record-setting $1.1 billion settlement of price-fixing claims against 10 makers of flat-screen panels used in laptop computers, TVs and computer monitors.

Seven firms went through a tentative approval of $553 million in July.  Three more, AU Optronics, Toshiba and LG Display, were in Illston’s court Thursday with a gaggle of plaintiffs’ lawyers to argue for approval of $571 million for their share of the deal.

Illston did not approve the final resolution but she took a big step closer.  “I think the sums marshaled to resolve these cases among the settling defendants are adequate to the talk.  I think they are fair and adequate to the class,” she told attorneys Francis Scarpulla and Joseph Alioto, who spoke for a crowd of other plaintiffs’ lawyers in the courtroom.

But it’s not over just yet.  There still is the issue of attorney fees for 115 law firms, seeking $308 million.

There are disputes about just how much those fees should be and who gets what, but Illston made clear from the state they were not going to hash over lawyer fees.

That conversation will come in January.

“The hearing today is about fairness,” Illston said.  “Then later we will listen to a discussion about fees. Hopefully, sometime in their lifetimes, these people [meaning plaintiffs] will get their money,” she said.

Early on Illston expressed concern that the process for consumers making claims for having been overcharged from LCD flat-panel screens in their electronics.

Joseph Cooper, the guy in charge of the claims process said the deadline to file claims is Dec. 6, 2012 and they still have no claims for the largest companies.

“We expect to be overwhelmed” as the deadline nears, he said.

He rattled off the names of an array of companies he expects to make a raft of claims, including Bank of America, Barnes & Noble, PG&E, the University of Southern California, Southern California Edison, the May Clinic, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Charles Schwab and Jet Blue.

He predicted claims could come from “everyone in the Fortune 1,000 and well beyond that.”

The deal covers retail purchase of products in the U.S. between Jan. 1999 and Dec. 31, 2006.  The firms were accused of conspiring to jack up the price and curb production of LCD panels among the 10 manufacturers that controlled the worldwide market.

The settlement is the largest ever in a price-fixing class action.

These settlements involve what’s known as “indirect purchasers” meaning retail consumers of products using flat panels.  A separate settlement with flat panel distributors who bought directly from the defendant companies have settled separately for $388 million.

Case:  In re TFT-LCD Flat-panel Antitrust litigation, No. C07-1827SI



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