AT&T free to sue Asian firms over prices

ANTITRUST CASE::Judges ruled that alleged price-fixing carried out by LCD makers was sufficiently tied to California to allow AT&T to pursue its claims under state antitrust law


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 - Page 5

AT&T Inc won partial reinstatement of its price-fixing lawsuit against AU Optronics Corp (友達光電), Samsung Electronics Co, LG Display Co and other makers of LCD panels.

A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco said on Thursday that AT&T, the biggest US phone carrier, could sue the Asian companies under California’s antitrust and unfair competition law over panel purchases that occurred outside the state.

The alleged price-fixing conspiracy may be sufficiently connected to California to allow the case to proceed, the court ruled.

“A defendant cannot reasonably complain that the application of California law is arbitrary or unfair when its alleged conspiracy took place, at least in part, in California,” the court said.

The case is one of several civil antitrust actions filed against makers of the LCD panels used in computers, notebook computers and televisions following a US federal probe.

A US Department of Justice criminal investigation of LCD price fixing led to guilty pleas by LG Display Co, Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd (中華映管), Chimei Innolux Corp (奇美電子) and Sharp Corp, which agreed to pay more than US$890 million in fines.

Seventeen executives have been charged and 10 have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison, the US Department of Justice said last year.

The appeals court sent the case back to a federal judge in San Francisco to determine whether each defendant’s alleged conduct was tied tightly enough to California to allow Dallas-based AT&T to press its claims under state antitrust law.

Eric Miller, a spokesman for the law firm of the LCD makers’ attorney, Richard Taffet, declined to comment on the ruling. Andrew Morgan, an AT&T spokesman did not immediately respond to e-mail messages seeking comment.

AT&T alleged in the Oct. 20, 2009, lawsuit reinstated on Thursday that it paid inflated prices for billions of US dollars of LCD panels purchased from 1996 to 2006 because the manufacturers orchestrated a global conspiracy to fix prices.

The company asked for triple damages and an injunction barring the manufacturers from colluding in the future.