Missouri businesses, consumers, and governmental entities spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on computers and other electronic devices containing TFT-LCD panels, often referred to as "flat screens." We have alleged that since the late 1990s the world's leading manufacturers of these TFT-LCD panels were conspiring with each other to keep prices higher so they could improve their profits in this mega-billion dollar market.
We have alleged that the conspiracy involved all of the major manufacturers of TFT-LCD panels. These glass panels are then incorporated into a wide variety of products, including desktop monitors, notebook computers, and flat screen televisions. We have alleged that the inflated prices resulting from the panel conspiracy were passed on to our citizens, businesses, and our taxpayer-funded institutions when they bought the end products.
The Attorney General is seeking an injunction against each of the manufacturers to prevent future price-fixing activities. The suit also seeks restitution for Missouri purchasers of products, particularly items such as desktop monitors, notebook computers, and flat screen televisions, containing TFT-LCD panels manufactured between 1999 and 2006. (These products may have been purchased between 1999 and 2007.) Additionally, the suit seeks civil penalties and the costs of the Attorney General's investigation and litigation.
See below for what Missouri purchasers should do if they would like to participate in this lawsuit.
A private class action representing consumers' individual claims is also pending in the Northern District of California. It is pursuing relief for a putative (proposed) class of Missouri consumer purchasers, but the class has not yet been certified by the Court.
The Attorney General has sued the following companies: AU Optronics Corporation; AU Optronics Corporation America; Chimei Innolux Corp., f/k/a Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp.; Chi Mei Optoelectronics USA, Inc., f/k/a International Display Technology USA, Inc.; Chi Mei Optoelectronics Japan Co., Ltd; HannStar Display Corporation; Hitachi, Ltd.; Hitachi Displays, Ltd.; Hitachi Electronic Devices, USA, Inc.; LG Display Co., Ltd., f/k/a LG Phillips LCD Co., Ltd.; LG Display America, Inc., f/k/a LG Phillips LCD America, Inc.; Samsung Electronics, Co., Ltd.; Samsung Electronics America, Inc.; Samsung Semiconductor, Inc.; Sharp Corporation, and Sharp Electronics Corporation.
The lawsuit has been filed in the Northern District of California where on-going criminal actions, several private class actions, and other related litigation are pending. We have been joined by the Attorneys General of Arkansas, Michigan, West Virginia and Wisconsin in this lawsuit. Several other Attorneys General have filed separate similar actions against many of these companies.
TFT-LCD panels (thin-film transistor liquid display panels) are the glass display panels inserted in desktop computer monitors, notebook computers, and in many flat screen televisions, in addition to other applications. The majority of the TFT-LCD panels in the world have been manufactured by companies in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan.
During the past two years we have been investigating this industry with several other states' Attorneys General. The evidence we have seen provides the basis for our lawsuit: we have alleged that this conspiracy operated at the highest level of these companies by executives and high-level employees engaging in various secret meetings and many other contacts with their competitors beginning in the late 1990s.
Within our Complaint we describe some of these meetings and other communications. For example, we allege that at least six of the manufacturers attended regular "Crystal Meetings" where high-level executives and management-level employees exchanged sensitive business information regarding TFT-LCD panel prices, customer demand, supply information, and production and shipment information. We allege that the attending manufacturers discussed how to raise prices and reached agreements on target prices, floor prices, and/or price ranges for TFT-LCD panels. As an example of these meetings, we describe a November 15, 2001 Crystal Meeting that was allegedly attended by high-ranking executives of six of the manufacturers. At this meeting they discussed efforts to raise prices that month and shared suggestions about how "[t]o avoid vicious price competition."
We allege that the manufacturers visited each others' businesses and that there was frequent communication among them about price and supply. For example, we allege that senior management from LG Display's Korea headquarters visited Hitachi in Japan in 2005 to discuss market conditions and outlook, including pricing concerns about TFT-LCD panels used in televisions. We also allege that pricing information was shared among the manufacturers, such as through a 2006 meeting in LG Display's office in Japan when future pricing of several of the manufacturers was discussed.
We allege that the manufacturers purposefully concealed their illegal activities and made many efforts to avoid detection by either customers or legal authorities. For example, we allege the manufacturers offered pretextual reasons for why their prices were not declining, such as by claiming there was inadequate supply available. We also allege that the manufacturers used numerous tactics to keep their meetings and communications secret, at one point urging participants to refrain from written communication.
We allege that, as the result of this conspiracy, prices for TFT-LCD panels did not go down as they should have when manufacturing costs declined.
We allege that the Defendants' conspiracy continued until several of their offices were raided by U.S. and foreign officials in December 2006. However, we believe that TFT-LCD panels that were subject to inflated prices remained in the stream of commerce so that purchasers may have been subject to higher prices for some period after the conspiracy was first discovered.
During our investigation, many of the companies we are now suing entered pleas of guilty to federal antitrust charges. These included Chi Mei Optoelectronics (now Chimei Innolux Corp.), Hitachi Displays Ltd., LG Display Co., Ltd., LG Display America, Inc., and Sharp Corporation. Two other manufacturers, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Ltd. and Epson Imaging Devices, Inc., also entered guilty pleas. All of these manufacturers have pleaded guilty to fixing price of TFT-LCD panels. Numerous company executives have entered pleas of guilty to federal criminal charges and have been sentenced to jail time as well as fines. These companies and individuals, combined, have been fined over $890 million dollars in these criminal cases.
Two additional manufacturers, AU Optronics Corporation and AU Optronics Corporation America, Inc., and additional company employees, were indicted by a federal grand jury this summer. Those manufacturers are accused of attending the secret Crystal Meetings in hotel rooms in Taipei and reaching price agreements on TFT-LCD panels between September 2001 and December 2006. HannStar Display Corporation was also charged in late June with Federal antitrust violations.
The Attorney General earlier entered into a settlement with Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Ltd., a Taiwanese participant in the conspiracy which pleaded guilty in 2009, in exchange for that company's cooperation in the on-going investigation of this matter.
The most important thing for all purchasers to do is locate any records they have showing purchases of desktop monitors, notebook computers, and flatscreen (LCD) televisions between 1999 and 2007. We encourage all purchasers to submit a Purchase Information Form by November 15, 2010.
Businesses and Organizations
If your business or organization (private or governmental)
you are asked to take the following steps:
we encourage you to locate and preserve any records you may have showing your purchase. It should not be necessary to submit your records until later in the case.
However, we encourage you to take the following steps:
Public notice will be made if there is an opportunity for consumers to file claims. If consumers have submitted a Purchaser Form, we will also contact you based on the contact information you have provided. If the private class action's Missouri Class is certified, you may also be eligible to participate in that class.
If you have questions about this litigation, please contact us via e-mail at