Toshiba Prevails Against Best Buy in LCD Price-Fixing Trial; HannStar Loses Civil Trial After Pleading Guilty in Criminal Investigation

On Sept. 3, 2013, a federal jury returned a verdict in Best Buy’s suit against Toshiba Corp. and HannStar Corp., based on an alleged conspiracy to fix prices of TFT-LCD panels. Toshiba had not pled guilty in the investigation the Department of Justice conducted into the conspiracy, and the jury found that Toshiba did not participate in it. In contrast, HannStar pled guilty in the DOJ’s investigation, and jury found that it was guilty of price fixing. After deliberating for less than a day, the jury awarded Best Buy $7.5 million in damages for its direct purchases, and awarded no damages for its indirect purchases. This amount will be trebled, but HannStar may be entitled to offsets for settlements Best Buy has obtained from other defendants.

Best Buy’s experts had estimated that Toshiba and HannStar were jointly and severally liable to  Best Buy for up to $770 million in damages for their participation in the conspiracy that affected  products containing price-fixed panels that Best Buy purchased. Under the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act, a plaintiff may only recover for anticompetitive foreign conduct if (1) it involves import trade or commerce, or (2) it has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on U.S. commerce. The jury held that the conspiracy did involve imported products but beyond that did not have a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on trade or commerce in the United States. Nonetheless, the jury still awarded Best Buy damages of $7.5 million.

HannStar had previously admitted its participation in the conspiracy, agreeing to pay a $30 million criminal fine pursuant to a plea agreement with the Department of Justice in 2010. Toshiba was not indicted by the DOJ, but last year was found guilty of price fixing in a suit brought by a class of direct purchasers. This trial brought to a close Track 1 of the LCD price-fixing cases remaining in the Northern District of California. Track 2 is ongoing with trials likely to take place in 2014.