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Class Certified in Blood Reagents Antitrust Case

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - Health care providers can proceed as a class in their claim that the biggest names in the blood reagents business fixed prices, a federal judge ruled.

Blood reagents help identify properties in human blood, letting hospitals know if a potential donor's blood is compatible with that of a potential recipient.

The plaintiffs in the case, including a group of hospitals, say they paid supracompetitive prices for a variety known as traditional blood reagents (TBR).

They say the TBR market was highly competitive in the 1980s and 1990s and included more than a dozen players.

Price competition was high and profitability was low, so much so that one manufacturer, Immucor Inc., approached bankruptcy and another, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics Inc., mulled leaving the TBR market, the purchasers say.

After Immucor acquired a string of competing producers by 1999, it and Ortho had a TBR duopoly in the U.S. market, the purchasers claim.

Immucor and Ortho allegedly believed that consolidating the market would let them jack up prices, and TBR purchasers say that is precisely what happened. The cost of many of the duo's blood reagent products rose by more than 2000 percent between 2000 and 2009, according to the complaint.

Immucor and Ortho allegedly began illegal pricing-related communications in November 2000. Purchasers say those communications, which began at an annual meeting of the American Association of Blood Banks in Washington, D.C., were the first phase of an extensive conspiracy to increase prices.

Several entities began filing suit in 2009 after the Department of Justice opened a criminal grand jury investigation into blood reagents pricing. In one January 2011 filing, Ortho said the DOJ had given "informal notice of the closure of its criminal investigation."

Thirty-three civil cases were consolidated in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania shortly thereafter. Purchasers had originally named Ortho's parent, Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems, as a defendant alongside Ortho and Immucor, but the court dismissed those claims.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois certified a class consisting of entities that bought TBR products in the U.S. directly from Immucor and Ortho from Jan. 1, 2000, to the present.

"After a rigorous analysis of the evidence offered by both parties, the court concludes that plaintiffs have shown by a preponderance of the evidence that they will be able to demonstrate antitrust impact using predominantly common proof," the 45-page opinion states.

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