AT&T Price-Fixing Suit Against LCD Panel Makers Revived

AT&T Inc. won partial reinstatement of its price-fixing lawsuit against AU Optronics Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., LG Display Co. and other makers of liquid crystal display panels

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco said yesterday that AT&T, the biggest U.S. phone carrier, could sue the Asian companies under California’s antitrust 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 liquid crystal display panels used in computers, notebook computers and televisions following a federal probe. A U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation of LCD price fixing led to guilty pleas by LG Display Co., Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp. and Sharp Corp., which agreed to pay more than $890 million in fines. Seventeen executives have been charged and 10 have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison, the Justice Department said last year.

California Conduct

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 didn’t immediately respond to e-mail messages seeking comment.

AT&T alleged in the Oct. 20, 2009, lawsuit reinstated yesterday that it paid inflated prices for billions of dollars of liquid crystal display 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.

The case is AT&T v. AU Optronics, 11-16188, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

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