WASHINGTONTo date, 35 corporations have pleaded guilty in the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Antitrust Division into alleged price fixing, bid rigging and market allocation by auto parts manufacturers.
These companies have paid more than $2.5 billion in criminal fines. However, with the multi-district litigation (MDL) facing them in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the real financial damage may be yet to come.
Since the first filing on Feb. 7, 2012, to the latest on June 5, 2015, a total of 993 documents have been filed so far in the price-fixing MDL before U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battiani.
Suits were filed against 51 companies, of which eightincluding such well-known names as Panasonic, TRW, and Autolivhave settled, according to Hollis Salzman, assistant managing partner in the New York office of law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P.
Ms. Salzman is co-lead counsel for the end payor settlement class of the MDLthat is, U.S. citizens who purchased vehicles that contained the parts in question. There are two other settlement classes in the litigationone for auto dealers who sold the vehicles, and one for auto makers who purchased the parts directly from the accused companies.
Of the 43 companies that have yet to settle, according to Ms. Salzman, four are manufacturers of rubber auto partsBridgestone Corp., Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd., Yamashita Rubber Co. Ltd. and Tokai Rubber Industries Inc. In 2014, Tokai Rubber changed its name to Sumitomo Riko Co. Ltd.
In February 2014, Bridge-stone pleaded guilty in Toledo, Ohio, federal district court to one count of conspiracy to fix prices for rubber anti-vibration parts. Bridge-stone paid a fine of $425 million and posted a special loss of $440 million against its 2013 financial results.
Three months earlier, Toyo also pleaded guilty to price fixing in rubber anti-vibration parts and agreed to pay a $120 million fine. Yamashita pleaded guilty to price fixing in September 2013 and agreed to pay an $11 million fine.
Tokai Rubber/Sumitomo Riko did not appear on a search of the DOJ Antitrust Division website. However, a search of Tokai Rubber on the website turned up the November 2012 price fixing guilty plea of an executive of the Ohio subsidiary of a Japanese anti-vibration parts manufacturer based in Saitama, Japan. Sumitomo Riko has a subsidiary in Saitama, TRI Saitama Ltd., which manufactures and sells various rubber products, according to the Sumitomo Riko website.
The reason for there being three settlement classes in the auto parts price fixing MDL, instead of one unified class, is simple, according to Eugene A. Spector, founding partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Spector, Roseman, Kodroff & Willis. Mr. Spector is interim co-counsel for the direct purchaser plaintiffs in the MDL.
The 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, Mr. Spector said, established the doctrine that only direct purchasers of goods and services may recover damages from antitrust violators. Under Illinois Brick, only the auto makers have standing to sue the auto parts makers for alleged price fixing, he told Tire Business.
However, many states have antitrust laws that explicitly reject the Illinois Brick ruling and allow indirect purchasers to sue for antitrust damages. The website for Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca L.L.P., the Washington, D.C., law firm that serves as interim co-counsel for the dealer class in the MDL, said it represents plaintiffs in 31 states and the District of Columbia in that action.
To date, the end-payor class in the MDL has obtained $172.1 million in settlements, according to Ms. Salzman. Jonathan W. Cuneo, founding partner in Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca, said he didn't immediately have an exact figure on settlements for the dealer class, but estimated it in the $55 million range.
The website for Spector, Roseman, Kodroff & Willis P.C. said the direct purchaser class won approximately $50 million in its first three settlements.
There have been no jury verdicts in the MDL so far, according to Ms. Salzman. The next court dates, she said, are status conferences scheduled for Sept. 9, 2015, and Jan. 20, 2016.
No one should expect any quick resolution to the MDL, Mr. Spector said. This is a very complex case, and it will continue for years.
Bridgestone and Toyo declined to comment to Tire Business on the MDL, saying they do not comment on current litigation.
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com
This report first appeared on www.tirebusiness.com.