Panasonic Corp. will pay $5.4 million to settle auto dealerships’ claims made in three Michigan federal lawsuits that it fixed prices on switches and other parts. This settlement came after the company agreed to a separate $17.1 million settlement in the multidistrict litigation (MDL). The auto dealers said in a motion for preliminary approval that the instant settlement also requires Panasonic to provide attorney proffers, witness depositions, and transactional data and other documents that will strengthen their claims against non-settling Defendants over switches, steering angle sensors and high-intensity-discharge lamp ballasts. The Plaintiffs’ motion stated:
The ability to obtain such information without protracted and expensive discovery is quite valuable to [auto dealers.] Panasonic’s cooperation will greatly enhance plaintiffs’ ability to prosecute their claims against nonsettling defendants.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced that auto parts supplier Robert Bosch GmbH has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $57.8 million criminal fine for conspiring to fix prices for spark plugs and other auto parts. The instant Panasonic settlement – reached in February – is the first in each of the three cases brought by the auto dealers. It’s different than Panasonic’s $17.1 million settlement that resolves a putative class action brought by car buyers who claimed the company conspired with others to fix prices of auto parts. Panasonic also reached that settlement in February but informed the court about it last month.
The cases are part of a MDL that was established after the Justice Department’s own investigation into the auto parts industry. That probe has already resulted in more than $2 billion in fines. The MDL – known as In Re: Automotive Parts Antitrust Litigation – has been divided into separate proceedings for different automotive parts, which also include occupant safety restraints and automotive wire harnesses. In the instant suits, the auto dealers and the classes they seek to represent bought new vehicles containing switches, steering angle sensors and HID ballasts manufactured or sold by a Defendant, or bought auto parts made or sold by a Defendant for their vehicles.
Plaintiffs claim that, as part of the conspiracies, Defendants agreed to allocate the supply of the parts on a model-by-model basis, and then sold the products at noncompetitive prices to automobile manufacturers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The instant suits also name Tokai Rika Co. Ltd., TRAM Inc. d/b/a Tokai Rica U.S.A. Inc., Denso Corp. and others as Defendants. In November the Defendants – in a collective motion – tried to get the suits, along with others, dismissed. They claimed that the auto dealers and end payors lacked constitutional standing because some of the parts at issue aren’t found in all the disputed vehicles.
In 2013, in another related settlement, Panasonic agreed to pay $45.8 million to the Justice Department to settle criminal charges of bid rigging for switches and steering angle sensors sold to Toyota Motor Corp., and HID ballasts sold to Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Mazda Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. The auto dealers said that Panasonic’s plea agreement with the government didn’t include an order for restitution because of the potential for recovery through civil causes of action. Also under the terms of the newly announced settlement, Panasonic’s sales will remain in the case for purposes of calculating damages against the non-settling Defendants and will be part of any joint and several liability claims against other current or future Defendants.
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