Thousands of U.S. dealerships that overpaid for vehicles because of price fixing by suppliers are poised to receive a payoff.
The dealerships will share in the settlements of an international investigation that snared 47 suppliers for rigging bids on parts over nearly two decades.
But not all stores harmed by the scheme — which led to the largest antitrust investigation in U.S. history — will reap the benefits.
About 8,000 dealerships in 29 states and the District of Columbia, representing every franchise, are eligible for compensation. More than 4,350 have filed claims to share in more than $335 million from about 50 supplier settlements, according to lawyers representing the dealerships. And with 20 settlements pending, dealerships in those states may still stake a claim.
But stores in 21 other states will get nothing, because laws in those states prohibit recovery of damages for indirect victims of price fixing.
Dealerships can get "injunctive relief" — through which a court would order suppliers to stop fixing prices — but no money, even though they suffered the same financial injury as stores being compensated.
For eligible dealerships, the first tranche of settlement checks is likely to be issued in spring and a second batch in summer, said Jonathan Cuneo, co-lead counsel on the legal team representing dealerships.
In a statement, the lawyers said dealers "with an active business throughout the class-[action] periods will receive thousands of dollars, with the largest dealer groups receiving more than six-figure payouts when all the cases are concluded."
They added that the payouts will "depend on the sales volume, brands, and models sold by each dealership."
The U.S. Department of Justice's investigation surfaced in 2010 when the FBI raided the offices of Yazaki North America Inc., Denso International America Inc. and Tokai Rika Group North America.
Investigators in the U.S. initially focused on Japanese suppliers and their U.S. subsidiaries, but parallel investigations launched in Asia and Europe.
The first plea agreement, in September 2011, involved Furukawa Electric Co. of Japan. Three U.S.-based executives agreed to plead guilty and the company agreed to pay a $200 million fine.
Altogether, 65 individuals and 47 companies have been charged, with the vast majority agreeing to plea bargains involving large fines and prison time for executives. Most also agreed to cooperate with investigators, according to the Justice Department's antitrust division.
Individuals and companies have agreed to pay more than $2.9 billion in fines, but the money did not go to vehicle manufacturers, dealers, parts retailers and consumers, which followed up with scores of civil suits in federal court against the companies.
In February 2012, the suits were consolidated and transferred to Judge Marianne Battani in U.S. District Court in Detroit, who retains jurisdiction over the civil litigation. Thus far, more than $1 billion has been set aside for affected parties, including the $335 million for dealerships, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers.