Stora Enso Price-Fix Case Revived by U.S. Appeals Court

Stora Enso North America Corp., a former unit of the Finnish commercial printing products company, must face an antitrust lawsuit brought by its customers, a federal appeals court ruled, reversing a trial judge’s dismissal of the case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan said today that a jury could potentially find that the company, which was sold to Newpage Corp. in 2007, conspired to fix prices. The three-judge panel affirmed the lower court’s decision to throw out the case against its former Helsinki-based parent, Stora Enso Oyj, for lack of evidence.

Paper buyers alleged that executives at Stora Enso’s then-U.S. unit and another Finnish paper maker, Helsinki-based UPM-Kymmene Ojy, engaged in secret meetings and conspired to fix prices in 2002 and 2003, according to the decision. Damages for the plaintiffs were estimated to be as much as $102.5 million, the decision said.

“We hold that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to SENA because a jury could reasonably find that SENA and UPM entered into an agreement to raise the price of publication paper, and that, as implemented, this agreement damaged plaintiffs,” U.S. Appeals Court Judge Susan L. Carney said in the decision.

The civil case followed an earlier criminal probe by the Department of Justice. A jury in the criminal case acquitted SENA of U.S. antitrust law violations in 2007, the appeals court said.

“We are confident that a jury reviewing all of the facts in connection with this case will conclude that there was no agreement to fix the prices of publication paper in the United States,” as a jury found in the criminal case, David Marx Jr., a lawyer for Stora Enso and its former U.S. unit, said in a phone interview today.

Miamisburg, Ohio-based Newpage filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2011. Its case is still pending. Shawn Hall, a company spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the ruling.

The civil antitrust case is In re Publication Paper Antitrust Litigation, 11-cv-101, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).

The criminal case is U.S. v. Stora Enso North America Corp., 3:06-cr-00323, U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. The bankruptcy case is In re NewPage Corp., 11-12804, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware (Wilmington).

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