Flat panel price fixing claims by indirect purchasers certified

United States District Court Judge Susan Illston (Northern District of California) certified a class of indirect purchasers harmed by an alleged global price-fixing conspiracy in the market for Thin Film Transistor Liquid Crystal Display (“TFT-LCD”) panels.  In re TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litigation, 2010 WL 1286478 (N.D. Cal. Mar 28, 2010).

The opinion explains what a TFT-LCD panel is:

TFT-LCD panels are made by sandwiching liquid crystal compound between two pieces of glass called substrates. The resulting screen contains hundreds of thousands of electrically charged dots, called pixels, which form an image. The panel is then combined with a backlight unit, a driver, and other equipment to create a “module” allowing the panel to operate and be integrated into a television, computer monitor, or other product.

Order, at 1.

The Plaintiffs alleged that during the class period, defendants formed a cartel to interfere with the normal cycle of supply and demand for TFT-LCD panels. According to plaintiffs, defendants agreed on prices, agreed to limit production, and agreed to manipulate the supply of TFT-LCD panels and products so that prices remained artificially high.  But the plaintiffs had quite a bit more to go on than mere allegation.  Thus far, in connection with DOJ investigations that are ongoing, seven corporate defendants in the action have also pled guilty to Sherman Act violations relating to suppressing and eliminating competition by fixing the prices of TFT-LCD panels. Those defendants are Sharp Corporation (CR 08-802 SI); LG Display Co. Ltd. and LG Display America, Inc. (CR 08-803 SI), Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Ltd. (CR 08-804 SI); Hitachi Displays Ltd. (CR 09-247 SI); Epson Imaging Devices Corporation (CR 09-854 SI); and Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corporation (CR 09-1166 SI).

The defendants also sought to strike modifications to the class definition.  The court denied the request:

Defendants have moved to strike the proposed modifications to the class definitions on the ground that plaintiffs should be required to seek leave of Court and/or the consent of defendants in order to modify the class definition. Defendants rely on this Court's decision in Jordan v. Paul Financial LLC, No. C 09-4496 SI, 2009 WL 192888 (N.D.Cal. Jan.27, 2009), in which the Court denied the plaintiff's request, made at the class certification hearing, to withdraw the pending class certification motion in order to substantively redefine the class and conduct additional discovery. However, Jordan is distinguishable in that there the proposed redefinition of the class was significant, and would have required additional discovery. Here, the proposed modifications are minor, require no additional discovery, and cause no prejudice to defendants. The Court DENIES defendants' motion to strike the modified class definitions.

Order, at 5.

The opinion has some interesting comments about damage proof models at certification and conspiracy allegations.