Judge Approves Battery Price-Fixing Settlement

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Following months of uncertainty, a federal judge granted approval Monday of settlements by Sony and other companies accused of inflating the prices of lithium ion batteries for more than a decade.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers approved the settlements in separate orders issued Monday, even though she had expressed doubt about their viability for providing too little information on which to base her decisions.

“Usually I would have all the numbers before I do a final approval,” she said at a March 1 hearing seeking preliminary approval of the LG Chem, Hitachi Maxell and NEC settlements. “It’s a sticky problem and it’s helpful to have more global information to start thinking about it.”

The indirect purchasers filed a consolidated complaint in the multidistrict litigation in July 2013, accusing 27 defendants from nine corporate families of rigging battery prices and restricting output between 2000 and 2011.

LG Chem pleaded guilty to criminal price-fixing in October 2013 and agreed to pay $1.1 million in criminal fines.

Under the settlementsLG Chem will pay $39 million, Hitachi Maxell $3.45 million and NEC $2.5 million to indirect purchasers in the United States who bought laptops, camcorders or power tools containing a cylindrical lithium ion battery or a replacement battery made by the defendants between Jan. 1, 2000 and May 31, 2011.

Sony, which won final approval of its settlement, will pay $19.5 million to indirect purchasers in the United States who during the same period bought a lithium ion battery or a product containing a lithium ion battery made by Sony.

Together, the four settlements add up to a recovery of $64.45 million. A damages expert estimated that the class suffered $967 million in damages during the 11-year conspiracy.

At a hearing last November, Gonzalez Rogers said that there were too many “moving pieces” to sign off on the Sony settlement, though she had granted it preliminary approval in May 2016.

And in March, she said that she hadn’t been given enough information on how many claimants there would be or how much they would receive in damages to approve the LG Chem, Hitachi Maxell and NEC settlements.

However, both class counsel and counsel for the three latter defendants urged her at the hearing to approve the settlements. The defendants said that they wanted to settle as quickly as possible to end the disruption that the lawsuits had caused.

On Monday, Gonzalez Rogers also approved the indirect purchasers’ proposal to have the claims period for all four defendants occur simultaneously “to maximize the effectiveness of the campaign and to promote efficiency in claims processing.”

The claims period will run between April 11 and Sept. 30.

Gonzales Rogers denied without prejudice the indirect purchasers’ motion for reimbursement from Sony of roughly $3.7 million in costs because they hadn’t submitted any records to support their request.

Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo, Toshiba and NEC Tokin Corp. currently make up the indirect purchaser plaintiffs.

The indirect purchasers are represented by Jeff Friedman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in Berkeley and Steven Williams of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy in Burlingame.

LG Chem is represented by Nathan Eimer of Eimer Stahl in Chicago; Hitachi Maxell by Lindsey Robinson Vaala of Vinson and Elkins in Washington; and NEC by Dana Lynn Cook-Milligan of Winston and Strawn in San Francisco.

Sony is represented by John Dwyer of Cooley LLP in Palo Alto and Beatriz Mejia, also of Cooley LLP, in San Francisco.

Counsel for the parties could not immediately be reached for comment Monday morning.

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