Tech distributor Avnet to seek $274 mln in antitrust damages at trial

  • Avnet opted out of class action settlements
  • Defendants including Nippon Chemi-Con and Hitachi Chemical dispute claims

(Reuters) – Avnet Inc said on Thursday it will seek more than $274 million in damages at trial next month in a US federal court over the electronics distributor’s claims that it is overpaid for certain key components in a global price-fixing conspiracy led by a group of Japanese manufacturers.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers for Avnet in new pre-trial filings in San Francisco federal court outlined the contours of their allegations against Nippon Chemi-Con Corp, Hitachi Chemical Co Ltd and several other companies that make “capacitor” components widely found in mobile phones and personal computers.

Publicly traded Avnet, based in Phoenix and employing more than 15,000 workers, is among the country’s largest distributors of connectors and semiconductors. Avnet opted out of class action settlements involving other so-called “direct purchasers” of capacitors.

Among those deals, Nippon agreed to pay $160 million, and Hitachi paid $63 million.

“The capacitors price-fixing conspiracy is one of the most coordinated, well documented, and long-running conspiracies in recent history,” a lawyer for Avnet, Scott Wagner of Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, said in Thursday’s filing. The company alleges the price-fixing occurred from 2001 to 2014.

Lawyers for Avnet and a representative from the company did not immediately reply on Friday to messages seeking comment.

Defense attorneys for Nippon Chemi-Con and Hitachi Chemical did not immediately respond on Friday to similar messages.

Hitachi, Nippon and other defendants denied liability as part of their settlement agreements, and the companies on Thursday in a court filing disputed Avnet’s claims that it had been harmed.

Lawyers for defendants also said that out of the $91 million in Avnet’s claimed damages, “only $1.5 million” was tied to capacitor purchases from the defendants. Parties in antitrust cases can recover three times the amount of actual damages.

“The conspiracy Avnet alleges — both in membership and scope — simply did not exist,” the defense lawyers said in their joint filing.

Avnet’s lawyers said “conspirators took meticulous notes of their meetings with competitors,” used code names and urged “others to destroy their notes after reading to ensure that the conspiracy remains concealed.” They further alleged that capacitor manufacturers exchanged confidential information about production and prices at group meetings “and discussed when and how to slow production in order to raise prices.”

The jury trial, set to begin on Nov. 10, is expected to last three to four weeks before US District Judge James Donato.

The case is Avnet Inc v Hitachi Chemical Co Ltd et al, US District Court, Northern District of California, No. 3:17-cv-07046-JD.

For Avnet: Robert Turken and Scott Wagner of Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod

For Hitachi Chemical Co Ltd: Chul Pak of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

For Nippon Chemi-Con: Joseph Bial of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

Read more:

US court asked to approve $165 mln capacitor antitrust settlement

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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