What constitutes price fixing? According to the Department of Justice Antitrust Division:
Price fixing is an agreement among competitors to raise, fix, or otherwise maintain the price at which their goods or services are sold. It is not necessary that the competitors agree to charge exactly the same price, or that every competitor in a given industry join the conspiracy. Price fixing can take many forms, and any agreement that restricts price competition violates the law.
In the news, Target Corporation is the latest retailer to accuse Bumble Bee Foods, Starkist and its South Korean parent Dongwon Industries, as well as Thai Union Group and its US subsidiary of price fixing. Target’s case was filed in Minnesota District Court on June 13, 2017. On June 29, the case was transferred to the California Southern District Court where other similar civil lawsuits are located.
Allegations made by Target follow Bumble Bee pleading guilty to conspiring with competitors to fix prices. The privately held company is North America’s largest branded shelf-stable seafood company. Bumble Bee will pay a $25 million fine. The Northern California District Court Case is United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division v. BUMBLE BEE FOODS, LLC, (Case 3:17-cr-00249-CRB). The 05/08/17 filing states:
BUMBLE BEE FOODS, LLC (“defendant”) is hereby made defendant on the charge contained in this Information.
- Beginning at least as early as the first quarter of 2011 and continuing until at least as late as the fourth quarter of 2013, the exact dates being unknown to the United States, in the Northern District of California and elsewhere, the defendant and its coconspirators knowingly entered into and engaged in a combination and conspiracy to fix, raise, and maintain the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States.
- The combination and conspiracy engaged in by the defendant and coconspirators was an unreasonable restraint of interstate commerce in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act (15 U.S.C. § 1).
- The charged combination and conspiracy consisted of a continuing agreement, understanding, and concert of action among the defendant and coconspirators, the substantial terms of which were to fix, raise, and maintain prices of packaged seafood.
- For purposes of this Information, packaged seafood consists of shelf-stable tuna fish.
Allegations of price fixing are taken very seriously by the DOJ as well as civil courts. Price fixing, bid rigging, and other forms of collusion are illegal and are subject to criminal prosecution by the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice. The Sherman Act prohibits any agreement among competitors to fix prices, rig bids, or engage in other anticompetitive activity. Violation of the Sherman Act is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $100 million for corporations and a fine of up to $1 million for individuals. The maximum Sherman Act jail sentence is 10 years.
Price fixing expert witnesses are knowledgeable in all aspects of restricted competition, anti-competition business practices, price manipulation, and the laws and regulations that govern these illegal actions. These experts determine market share and whether elements of a monopoly are present. With so much at stake, hiring the right price fixing expert is critical to your case.