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From Antitrust Law Daily, January 5, 2016

Truck dealers’ wire harness systems price fixing claims proceed

By Greg Hammond, J.D.

A group of truck and equipment dealerships could proceed with claims that various companies that manufacture, market, and sell vehicle wire harness systems in the United States engaged in a price fixing conspiracy. The federal district court in Detroit denied the manufacturers’ motion to dismiss on statute of limitations grounds, finding that questions of fact exist concerning the dealerships’ diligence and possible fraudulent concealment (In re Automotive Parts Antitrust Litigation, December 30, 2015, Battani, M.).

Publicity, inquiry notice. The court first noted that it was undisputed that publicity of the government investigation into an automotive wire harness conspiracy began in February 2010, but the dealerships filed their initial complaint in November 2014. The dealerships, however, claimed that they lacked the means to discover the conspiracy until the Japanese Fair Trade Commission announced its enforcement activity in March 2013, which expanded beyond passenger vehicles. Siding with the dealerships at the current stage of litigation, the court declined to conclude that the February 2010 announcement of the raids, investigations, and guilty pleas concerning automobiles showed that the dealerships should have been aware of their claims concerning trucks and equipment. The manufacturers further failed to show that had the dealerships exercised reasonable diligence, they would have discovered grounds for filing the lawsuit within the limitations period.

Complaint inconsistencies. The court also rejected the manufacturers’ argument that the dealerships’ claims were untimely in light of their own allegations concerning the investigations and guilty pleas in the passenger vehicle industry because they alleged that the same information did not put them on notice of their claims. Specifically, the court determined that questions of fact exist concerning possible fraudulent concealment, given the dealerships’ allegations that they had no idea that the conspiracy went beyond passenger vehicles until something other than a passenger vehicle was identified during a subsequent government investigation.

State claims, residency. Claims brought under the antitrust or consumer protection laws of states requiring the dealerships to allege a nexus between a defendant’s conduct and interstate commerce, however, were dismissed. The court determined that there were no plaintiffs that resided or were injured in the nexus states, including Mississippi, Nevada, New York, South Dakota, and West Virginia, and that the required connection between the named plaintiffs’ claims and the nexus states was therefore missing.

Individual motions. Fujikura Automotive America LLC, Fujikura Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Mitsubishi Electric US Holdings, Inc., and Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America, Inc. also brought individual motions to dismiss the dealerships’ complaint. The court granted all three motions, finding: (1) evidence presented to the court confirmed that Fujikura Automotive America LLC did not manufacture or sell wire harnesses to be installed in trucks and equipment; (2) the court could not exercise personal jurisdiction over Fujikura Ltd. when its activities did not give rise to the dealerships’ cause of action and the claim was based on parts it never supplied; and (3) the dealerships failed to allege that the Mitsubishi defendants sold vehicle wire harness systems to truck and equipment dealers.

The case is No. 12-md-02311.

Attorneys: J. Manly Parks (Duane Morris LLP) for Rush Truck Centers of Arizona, Inc., Rush Truck Centers of California, Inc., Rush Truck Centers of Colorado, Inc., Rush Truck Centers of Florida, Inc. and Rush Truck Centers of Idaho, Inc. Craig D. Bachman (Lane Powell PC) for Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd. and American Furukawa, Inc. James L. Cooper (Arnold & Porter LLP) and Joanne G. Swanson (Kerr, Russell and Weber, PLC) for Fujikura Ltd. and Fujikura Automotive America LLC.

Companies: Rush Truck Centers of Arizona; Rush Truck Centers of California, Inc.; Rush Truck Centers of Colorado, Inc.; Rush Truck Centers of Florida, Inc.; Rush Truck Centers of Idaho, Inc.; Denso Corp.; Denso International America, Inc.; Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd.; American Furukawa, Inc.; Leoni Wiring Systems, Inc.; Fujikura Ltd.; Fujikura Automotive America LLC; Mitsubishi Electric Corp.; Mitsubishi Electric US Holdings, Inc.; Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America, Inc.

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