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Sony Ponies Up $19M to|End Battery Cartel Case

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Sony will pay $19 million to settle antitrust class action claims that it conspired to fix the price of lithium ion batteries, making it the first defendant to settle in the case.

The underlying, multidistrict lawsuit, transferred to San Francisco in 2013, accuses Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and others of conspiring to fix the price of lithium ion batteries and restrict their output between Jan. 1, 2000 and May 31, 2011.

Although U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers initially found the $19 million settlement figure "on the low side" at a preliminary approval hearing in March, she granted final approval of the settlement in an order Wednesday afternoon, calling it "in all respects, fair, reasonable and adequate."

At a final approval hearing the day before, Gonzalez Rogers questioned whether she would approve the settlement, noting that 98 entities and individuals had opted out of it.

Gonzalez Rogers asked the parties Tuesday if the opt-outs, which include interested party Flextronics International, were likely to sue.

Sony attorney Beatriz Mejia said she didn't expect more than four to five additional corporate plaintiffs to sue, adding that the ones that were likely to sue already have.

Among those companies are Dell and Gateway, according to Gonzalez Rogers.

Plaintiffs' attorney Rick Saveri said that, with half of the opt-outs being individuals, "what happens sometimes is corporations and individuals settle in the background, and then when these settlements come up, they just opt out."

Sony can terminate the settlement if 35 percent of purchasers opt out of the class, but the opt-outs fell short of that threshold condition in the settlement agreement. "So that would not be a basis for granting final approval," Gonzalez Rogers said.

In approving the settlement, the judge also certified a nationwide class of direct purchasers who bought the batteries during the price-fixing period.

Sanyo and LG Chem pled guilty to the price fixing scheme in 2013. Sanyo agreed to pay $10.7 million and LG Chem $1.1 million in criminal fines.

As the first defendant to settle, Sony will help prosecute the remaining defendants, which will include producing employees for depositions and trial testimony, according to the settlement motion.

Gonzalez Rogers noted there were no objectors to the settlement in the courtroom. She said she received two hand-written objections that appeared to have been submitted by the same person.

"That is not a basis for the court to deny final approval," she said.

Saveri is with Saveri and Saveri in San Francisco; Mejia is with Cooley LLP, also in San Francisco.

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