Following a five-week trial, a federal jury in San Francisco rejected antitrust price-fixing claims by certified classes of direct and indirect purchasers of ramen products, scoring a significant victory for Squire Patton Boggs client Nongshim Co. Ltd., the world’s leading maker of Korean Ramen, and its U.S. subsidiary, Nongshim America, Inc.
Finding no conspiracy and therefore no liability, the jury reached its verdict unanimously after three hours of deliberations in In Re Korean Ramen Antitrust Litigation, Case No. 13-cv-04115 (N.D. Cal.), a complex, bet-the-company case that dates back over 10 years.
“It is quite rare for antitrust class action cases to go to verdict in the U.S., and we are delighted with the jury’s conclusion,” said Squire Patton Boggs partner Mark Dosker, who co-led the firm’s defense team.
Squire Patton Boggs Senior Partner John Gall, co-lead trial counsel for the Nongshim Defendants said, “This was a complex, bet-the-company antitrust case and the win paves the way for the Nongshim companies’ continued success. Plaintiffs never got to first base with the jury, even after five weeks of testimony. The jurors came to accept that the Korean government’s de facto control over the price of ramen noodles in Korea made any alleged price fixing by ramen noodle companies in Korea impossible. This case should never have been brought, as the jury underscored by answering “No” to the very first question on the verdict form after two hours of deliberation.”
The roots of the case grew from a 2008 investigation by the Korean Fair Trade Commission (“KFTC”) that commenced with dawn raids on June 3, 2008 on Nonghsim and its competitors in Korea about 90 days after Nongshim raised its ramen prices in the domestic Korean market without first getting approval from the Korean government, which for many years has exercised de facto price control. Several years later, based on a leniency application submitted by a competing ramen company, the KFTC issued an Order, which resulted in Nongshim and its competitors in Korea, having to pay fines upwards of US$100 million each. The KFTC’s Order was eventually reversed by the Korean Supreme Court in late 2015, and remanded to the KFTC.
U.S. plaintiffs’ law firms filed class action antitrust litigation in the federal courts in 2013 and the cases were transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Claims centered on an alleged Sherman Act §1 per se price-fixing conspiracy, and sought nearly US$500 million in damages and attorneys’ fees.
The Squire Patton Boggs trial team of John Gall (Senior Partner), Mark Dosker (Partner), Joe Grasser (Partner), Tania Rice (Associate), and John Belfiore (Paralegal) represented the Nongshim companies.
Proceedings in the case included nearly 100 depositions of fact witnesses – mostly in Korea – and experts, examinations in Korean Court of witnesses pursuant to letters rogatory issued under the Hague Convention, and a host of other pretrial proceedings.