OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge said she was inclined to approve a $19 million settlement of antitrust class action claims against Sony accusing Japanese and Korean companies of conspiring to fix prices of lithium ion batteries.
But U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers qualified her approval, saying, "It does look to me on the low side."
The multidistrict lawsuit, which was transferred to San Francisco in 2013, names such defendants as Samsung, Panasonic and Hitachi in addition to Sony, but Sony is the first of the defendants to agree to settle.
"Icebreaker settlements are very important," Rick Saveri, who argued for the direct purchaser plaintiffs at Tuesday's hearing for the settlement's preliminary approval, said.
Saveri said the $19 million cash settlement "doesn't revert back at all" to Sony, and since the battery sales remain in the case his clients "get to go after full damages from the remaining defendants."
He added that the proposed settlement has a cooperation provision, which gives the plaintiffs access to two Sony employees as witnesses in proceeding litigation.
Beatriz Mejia, arguing for Sony, told Rogers, "You may not be surprised to hear that we think that $19 million is far too rich. But it reflects cooperation that we're the first to settle."
Saveri said that $19 million represents 10 percent of the damages attributable to Sony as determined by a preliminary study.
Rogers asked for clarification of the settlement's cooperation provision.
"Since Sony is not admitting any liability as part of this agreement, then how does that work with this cooperation to give witnesses who will in effect provide testimony that will show under your analysis that they conspired?" she asked Saveri. "How do those two things work together?"
Saveri replied that although the agreement says that Sony admits no wrongdoing, "the witnesses will come forward and we will depose them regarding their involvement in the conspiracy."
He added, "The witnesses will then have admissible evidence to put in at trial as we go forward."
Rogers then asked Saveri how distribution would work, since a class has not yet been defined.
"The settlement for the class as it is here with Sony will be on a pro rata distribution," Saveri said. "If there are settlements that are a subset of that, they'll be potted with Sony."
Still maintaining that she thought the settlement amount was "on the low side," Rogers said she was inclined to approve it.
Saveri is with Saveri and Saveri in San Francisco.
Mejia is with Cooley, also in San Francisco.