Oregon Settles LCD Panel Antitrust Case for $25M

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Friday approved a $25.5 million agreement to settle the state of Oregon’s antitrust claims against nine liquid-crystal display panel makers.
     The settlement marks the latest twist in a long-running, multidistrict antitrust case dating back to 2007, when dozens of LCD panel makers were charged with engaging in a price-fixing conspiracy from 1999 to 2006.
     LCD panels are used in a host of electronic products including televisions, computer monitors, laptops, cellphones and digital cameras.
     Samsung previously settled antitrust claims with a class of indirect buyers for $538.6 million in 2012. Three other companies – Toshiba, LG Display and AU Optronics – also reached a $571-million settlement deal with indirect buyers in 2013.
     Oregon first entered the multidistrict case in 2010 along with Washington and Illinois, when the three states objected to the defendant companies’ proposed settlements with indirect buyers.
     During a Friday hearing, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said she would approve a new agreement between the state of Oregon and nine LCD panel sellers, making $25.5 million available to Oregon residents and local government branches that purchased LCD panel products between 2002 and 2006.
     “I think Oregon has done a wonderful and actually a tenacious job here on behalf of its constituents,” Illston said. “It was quite a good bit of lawyering on behalf of the attorney general’s office of the state of Oregon so you should be proud of yourself.”
     The settlement requires all defendants except Toshiba to cooperate with Oregon’s prosecution of any nonsettling defendants. The companies must turn over all records and evidence related to the alleged price-fixing conspiracy and make at least two to four employees available for interviews and depositions.
     It also requires all defendants, excluding Toshiba and Epson, to demonstrate ongoing compliance with federal antitrust laws.
     The $25.5 million settlement package includes $6.97 million from LG Display; $4.5 million from Samsung; $4.25 million from AU Optronics; $1.95 million from Sharp; $1.63 million from Chi Mei; $1 million from HannStar; $565,000 from Hitachi Displays; $525,000 from Toshiba; and $105,000 from Epson.
     Seven of the companies already deposited their settlement funds into an escrow account, which Oregon will take control of pending the settlement’s approval. HannStar and AU Optronics have not yet paid their share of settlement funds but must do so by the end of the year, according to Oregon’s motion for settlement approval.
     Oregon Department of Justice attorney Tim Nord, who appeared by telephone at Friday’s hearing, said Oregon law does not require the judge hold a final approval hearing to certify the settlements.
     Oregon will use $815,000 of the $25.5-million package to cover the costs of notifying indirect buyers in the state and processing claims for relief, according to its motion for approval.
     Within the next 15 days, the attorney general will send emails to local government entities and public colleges and universities alerting them to the pending settlement and giving them 60 days to opt out of the deal.
     Oregon will also notify residents by issuing press releases and alerting the media, giving individuals 60 days to exclude themselves from the award.
     The settlement contracts give each company the option to rescind their agreements with the state if the level of opt-outs exceeds 5 percent.
     Illiston imposed a Dec. 18 deadline for Oregon to file its motion to recover attorneys’ fees and costs from the settling companies, which will not exceed 20 percent of the total settlement award or $5.1 million, according to the Oregon Attorney General’s office.

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