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Recent Developments

Recent Appellate Victory Paves the Way to Trial in California Canadian Car Antitrust Action

After four years in the California Court of Appeal, a class of California new car buyers finally got the decision they were looking for: reversal of the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd. ("Ford Canada"), giving a green light to trial in this long-running antitrust case.

Berman DeValerio has represented car buyers in both federal and state court in long-standing antitrust litigation against several major automakers alleging that the automakers conspired in the early 2000s to block the export of identical, yet less expensive, new cars from Canada to the U.S. The lawsuits allege that the automakers violated various state and federal antitrust, unfair competition and consumer protection laws, and increased prices for U.S. car buyers. Although the federal multi-district litigation, over which the Firm was lead counsel, came to a conclusion in 2009 with partial settlements, lawsuits remain ongoing in several states, including California.

In 2011, the trial court in California granted summary judgment in favor of defendants Ford Motor Company and Ford Canada. On July 5, 2016, the California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's ruling with respect to Ford Canada. In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel found that plaintiffs had produced evidence of "patently anticompetitive behavior" in the form of an illegal agreement among the defendants to stamp out Canadian new vehicle exports on which a jury could base a finding of unlawful conspiracy. The appellate court reversed the trial court's decision to exclude certain key conspiracy evidence, including minutes of a meeting among the automakers and deposition testimony from an auto company executive who observed a "consensus" among the automaker representatives to work together to stop cheaper exports. The court concluded that from this evidence "a reasonable juror could find an unlawful conspiracy to restrict Canadian exports more likely than not."

The case now returns to the trial court for further proceedings, and San Francisco Partner Todd A. Seaver is pleased to see that there's now a clear path to trial. "This antitrust case may be over a decade old but its central question persists in today's global economy," Mr. Seaver observed. "Can international companies, like automakers, enjoy the lowest possible production costs that come with borderless trade while simultanously agreeing with each other to stamp out the cross-border movement of finished goods, which would otherwise permit consumers to enjoy the most competitive price? The good news with the Court of Appeal's decision is that a jury will finally get to hear the evidence and answer that question."

The case is captioned In re Automobile Antitrust Cases I and II, JCCP Nos. 4298 and 4303 (San Francisco County Superior Court). The Firm's partners on the case include, Joseph J. Tabacco, Jr. (who argued the case for plaintiffs before the Court of Appeal), Todd A. Seaver and Matthew D. Pearson.