Judge Approves $125 Million Disk Drive Antitrust Settlement

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Four electronics giants will pay $124.5 million in an antitrust class action to indirect purchasers of optical disk drives, in a settlement approved Monday by a federal judge.

Hitachi-LG Data Storage will pay $73 million; Sony will pay $28.5 million; Panasonic $16.5 million; and NEC $6.5 million.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg’s final approval on Monday ended more than six years of litigation for the four companies accused of a global price-fixing conspiracy for at least five years.

Lead class counsel Jeff Friedman said winning class certification, which was denied in October 2014, was the hardest obstacle of the six-year legal battle.

“The most challenging part of it was when we initially lost class certification, and fortunately Judge Seeborg permitted us to go back and take a second bite at the apple,” Friedman said. “We had to do a lot more work in order to satisfy the court that the class should be certified.”

The indirect buyer class includes anyone who purchased an external disk drive or computer with an internal disk drive in 23 states and Washington, D.C. from April 2003 to December 2008.

The agreement covers half the disk drives allegedly sold at inflated prices due to the price-fixing conspiracy, Friedman said.

Seeborg also awarded the indirect buyers’ counsel $34.8 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.

Seeborg granted Friedman’s law firm, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, the requested $24.2 million in fees with a 1.29 multiplier due to the risk the firm took in litigating such a complicated and far-reaching price-fixing case.

“Antitrust class actions are one of the most complex types of litigation – this one involves eleven defendant families, multiple continents, four languages, and alleges a global conspiracy that purportedly started over a decade ago,” Seeborg wrote in the 28-page ruling.

He noted that the $31.1 million in fees was 25 percent of the $124.5 million settlement, and meeting that 25 percent benchmark was appropriate given the risks faced and results achieved by the class attorneys.

Seeborg also found the hourly billing rates of $125 for paralegals to $950 for senior attorneys were within the acceptable range of market rates for Northern California, despite some objections that the rates were too high.

“We think the judge fairly recognizes how much our firm invested, and Hagens Berman did it all on our own with our own resources for more than six years and took tremendous risk given that we had already lost once class certification,” Friedman said.

The judge also awarded the class attorneys $3.7 million in litigation expenses.

The final settlement covers indirect buyers of disk drives in Washington D.C. and Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Each class member will receive approximately $10 per disk drive, depending on the number of claims filed, Friedman said.

Advertisements about the settlement were placed in USA Today and People Magazine, and about 14.7 million notices were emailed directly to consumers. Friedman said the actual size of the settlement class is “significantly larger” than 14.7 million.

Class members may file claims at www.opitcaldiskdriveantitrust.com until the deadline of July 1, 2017.

Seeborg in April approved a $37 million settlement that ended the antitrust class action for direct purchaser plaintiffs, such as HP and Dell.

The $124.5 million deal approved Monday includes a provision that requires the settling firms to cooperate in helping the class pursue antitrust claims against the remaining defendants.

Friedman declined to comment on whether the indirect buyers were in settlement talks with remaining defendants, such as Toshiba and Koninklijke Philips.

Attorneys for Hitachi-LG, Sony, Panasonic and NEC did not immediately return emails seeking comment Monday afternoon.

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