Automotive Lighting Class Action Settles
A Kansas City law firm serving as lead counsel in a nationwide class action lawsuit that alleged collusion and price-fixing in the aftermarket automotive lighting industry has secured a more than $25 million settlement against two of the defendants.
Attorneys with Stueve Siegel Hanson’s Kansas City and San Diego offices joined lawyers at two other San Diego firms as well as in Washington and New York in the February 2009 lawsuit filed in federal court in California.
The initial complaint included five auto parts companies based in California and three other states, covering a period from July 2001 to February 2009, but the plaintiff class since has grown to between 700 and 1,000 members, said plaintiff’s attorney Norm Siegel.
The complaint alleged “artificial manipulation of the market” for such products as head lamps, taillights and related lighting products commonly sold in auto repair shops rather than brand-name dealers. The suit estimated the nationwide aftermarket auto supply business as a $185 billion industry, with aftermarket lighting accounting for $200 million in yearly U.S. sales.
The suit named six Taiwanese manufacturers or their U.S. subsidiaries, accusing the companies of a “long-running and egregious conspiracy” in which the defendants “routinely exchanged complete pricing information,” in part by meeting at industry conventions in Las Vegas and also by collaborating on submissions to a nonprofit industry group, the Certified Automotive Parts Association.
Much of the case was built upon information obtained from defendant Sabry Lee (USA) Inc., Siegel said. The company filed its own suit against its competitors in September 2008 after a business deal to sell Eagle Eyes aftermarket lighting products dissolved, making the company a victim of the very practices it once relied upon, he said.
Those details included the names of executives who purportedly engaged in the price-fixing scheme as well as the locations of those meetings, Siegel said.
Attorneys for Sabry Lee did not respond to requests for comment on the case and settlement.
“Sabry Lee began reselling parts from non-defendant manufacturers,” Siegel said. The company “was consequently a target of predatory pricing by the defendants, which triggered Sabry Lee’s own competitor lawsuit.” Most of those specifics, though, remain under seal after the court issued a protective order to maintain confidentiality, he said.
The plaintiffs reached preliminary out-of-court settlements with Sabry Lee, Depo Auto Parts Industrial Co. Ltd. and Maxzone Vehicle Lighting Corp. in early 2011, with final approval given this March.
Attorneys for Depo Auto Parts/Maxzone also did not return messages seeking comment.
Sabry Lee agreed to pay $450,000, while Depo Auto and Maxzone, its California-based subsidiary, agreed to pay $25 million, court documents show. The case against defendants TYC Brother Industrial Co. Ltd., Genera Corp., Eagle Eyes Traffic Industrial Co. and E-Lite Corp. continues, Siegel said.
In addition, Sabry Lee, Maxzone and Eagle Eyes pleaded guilty to federal criminal antitrust violations and were sentenced to pay millions in fines, collectively, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. TYC has cooperated with the department, Siegel said.
■ $25.5 million class action settlement
Out of state
■ Venue: U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (Western Division)
■ Case Number/Date: 2:09-ml-02007/March 22, 2012
■ Judge: George Wu
■ Caption: In re Aftermarket Automotive Lighting Products Antitrust Litigation
■ Plaintiff’s’ Attorneys: Norman Siegel, Patrick Stueve, Jason Hartley and Jason Lindner, Stueve Siegel Hanson, Kansas City and San Diego; Bonny E. Sweeney, Thomas P. Merrick and Paula M. Roach, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, San Diego; Michael P. Lehmann, Jon T. King, Michael D. Hausfeld and Hilary K. Ratway, Hausfeld, San Diego and Washington; Jay L. Himes, Hollis L. Salzman and William V. Reiss, Labaton Sucharow, New York
■ Defendants’ Attorneys: Maxwell M. Blecher, John A. Andrews, William Hsu and Courtney A. Palko, Blecher & Collins, Los Angeles, for Sabry Lee Inc.; Stephen V. Bomse, David C. Brownstein, Eric M. Hairston and Deborah Croyle, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, San Francisco, for Depo Auto Parts Industrial and Maxzone Vehicle Lighting
By Alan Scher Zagier
Special to Missouri Lawyers Weekly