Tech distributor Avnet wins $268 million antitrust trial verdict

By Mike Scarcella

(Reuters) – A U.S. jury on Monday awarded nearly $268 million in damages to electronic components distributor Avnet Inc in its lawsuit accusing a leading technology manufacturer of artificially inflating prices as part of a global price-fixing conspiracy.

The jury verdict in San Francisco federal court against defendants Nippon Chemi-Con Corp and its Illinois-based subsidiary United Chemi-Con Inc came after two days of deliberation at the end of a two-week antitrust trial.

Phoenix-based Avnet, among the country’s largest distributors of connectors and semiconductors, had alleged that from 2001 to 2014 it was overcharged for capacitor components widely found in electronic devices including household appliances, mobile phones and personal computers. Capacitors store electrical energy and help regulate current movement.

Antitrust litigation over capacitor price-fixing claims has sprawled for nearly a decade, and private civil and U.S. government criminal cases have led to hundreds of millions of dollars in class-action settlements and other penalties.

Avnet opted out of class action settlements involving other direct purchasers of capacitors.

Lawyers for Nippon Chemi-Con and United Chemi-Con at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison on Monday did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. A representative from United Chemi-Con did not immediately respond to a similar request.

A spokesperson for Avnet in a statement thanked the jury and judge but declined to comment further.

Avnet recorded $24.3 billion in revenue last year.

The jury awarded $89,244,000 in damages, which will be trebled under U.S. antitrust law to $267.7 million, said Scott Wagner, an attorney for Avnet at the law firm Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod. In a pretrial brief, Avnet said it was seeking $274 million.

Attorneys for Avnet said in court filings that “the capacitors price-fixing conspiracy is one of the most coordinated, well documented, and long-running conspiracies in recent history.”

Defense lawyers for Nippon Chemi-Con and United Chemi-Con disputed liability. The defendants and others argued that out of Avnet’s claimed damages, “only $1.5 million” was tied to capacitor purchases from the defendants.

“The conspiracy Avnet alleges — both in membership and scope — simply did not exist,” the defense lawyers said in a filing late last year.

The case is Avnet Inc v Hitachi Chemical Co Ltd et al, U.S. 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 Nippon Chemi-Con: Joseph Bial of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

(Reporting by Mike Scarcellal; editing by Leigh Jones)

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