SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – After a five-week trial, a federal jury has found no proof two major South Korean ramen makers conspired to illegally fix noodle prices in Korea and the United States.
Monday’s unanimous verdict was hailed as a “significant victory” for the ramen companies as most antitrust class actions never make it to trial, let alone to a jury verdict.
“It is quite rare for antitrust class action cases to go to verdict in the U.S., and we are delighted with the jury’s conclusion,” attorney Mark Dosker of Squire Patton Boggs, who led the companies’ defense, said in a statement.
The Plaza Company, which runs the Plaza Market in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, claimed in a 2013 lawsuit that ramen makers Nongshim America, Samyang, Nong Shim, Korea Yakult and Ottogi held a meeting in the Renaissance Seoul Hotel in 2000 and agreed to collectively raise Korean ramen prices slowly over a period of roughly eight years.
A 2012 investigative report by the Korean Fair Trade Commission found the companies colluded, leading to a $120 million fine and an order to stop sharing pricing information. This order was reversed three years later by the Korean Supreme Court.
Plaza was joined in the lawsuit by other ramen sellers and distributors, including Pitco Foods, Summit Import and California Market, along with consumers in 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. They claimed the companies’ conspiracy drove up prices by roughly 54 percent.
Samyang Foods settled with the retailers in 2016 for $1.5 million.
In 2017, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III ordered the case against Nongshim, Ottigoi and their American counterparts to trial, finding “ample (although hotly disputed) evidence of a conspiracy by the defendants to fix the price of Korean ramen in Korea that was fraudulently concealed from consumers.”
Orrick said there were too many factual disputes in the case to be resolved without a trial, especially as to whether the alleged conspiracy impacted ramen prices in the United States and in particular for ramen manufactured in the United States.
The class’ attorney Christopher Lebsock, did not respond to an email request for comment Tuesday.