Unfair business practices designed to limit competition, and can lead to higher prices, reduced quality or service, less innovation, and fewer competitors in a given market. Anticompetitive practices include price fixing, bid rigging, group boycotts, overcharges, underpayments, and exclusionary contracts. These practices can be agreements between competitors, also referred to as horizontal conduct. They can also be monopolistic practices of a single business.
SRG focuses on business-to-business antitrust class action settlements, which often originate as lawsuits over anticompetitive practices by or between market-leading companies. In these types of cases the defendants have been accused of some form of anticompetitive practices. The defendant companies usually settle claims over unfair practices without admitting guilt.
When a federal class action lawsuit is settled, it is subject to approval of the district court, and any class member may object. If the district court approves the settlement, the objector may appeal. Appeals can take time, and will delay resolution of the settlement, and the distribution of funds to the eligible claimants. Most appeals are not successful, and can be delaying tactics to slow down the payment of funds.
Class action settlements have case numbers, and they are often a combination of individual cases with the designation multi district litigation ("MDL"). Cases are represented by the name of the settlement, the court (i.e. US District Court Southern District of New York), the designation "MDL" and/or CV (civil case) and the judges' initials. All settlements that SRG works are public record, and may be researched by case name, number, jurisdiction, etc.
Certification occurs when the court decides that a case may proceed as a class action. A class is "certified" after the court decides that major criteria are met. The criteria are: 1) number of plaintiffs; 2) "commonality" of the kind of damages plaintiffs suffered; 3)"typicality" of class members having the same argument; 4) "adequate" representation of the class members; and 5) "viability" of the defendant to compensate the plaintiffs if they lose.
The Class Counsel for the court will hire and oversee a claims administrator (also known as settlement administrator) as a neutral third party to manage the entire claims process.
Claims administrators send out notices to potential class members that they may be eligible. They also receive and process claims; notify class members if their claim is incomplete or deficient; request documentation to substantiate a claim; calculate a recognized loss according to the Court's Plan of Allocation; identify the number and value of eligible claims; recommend rejected claims to Class Counsel; and distribute the funds to eligible claimants on a pro-rata basis.
SRG communicates frequently with the claims administrators of all the settlements we work with to make sure that all our clients receive the full time and consideration of their claim. SRG helps maximize the recovery value for our client refunds.
Claims administrators will audit refund claims for several reasons. Larger claims pay more money, but also receive greater scrutiny. Some claims administrators will automatically audit claims above a certain dollar value, while paying a minimum refund for claims below a certain dollar value. Some audits are random, while other result from missing or confusing information that the claims administrator cannot easily interpret.
SRG assumes that large claims will be audited. We help clients substantiate their claims with documentation, invoices, affidavits, purchasing reports, etc. If a client has no documentation, we can still pass audits using credible estimates and plausible explanations.
Claims Recovery Agreement
The agreement between SRG and its clients to file a claim and pursue a recovery in a class action settlement, once a settlement has been reached. Clients give SRG the necessary information or documentation to prove their eligibility and the amount of their expenditures. SRG charges a contingency fee for our services, so the client only pays if SRG successfully obtains a refund.
In addition to the plaintiffs, the eligible "class" is any entity or group affected by the defendant's anticompetitive actions that may have been harmed, and are therefore eligible for a refund. Depending on the settlement, class members can be companies, organizations or individuals, and can comprise multiple industries or occupations. When claims administrators send out notices to class members, they make best efforts to reach any group that could claim to be affected by the defendant's actions.
SRG uses historical data and our own research to contact eligible class members who may not be aware of a settlement, or are hesitant to file a claim if they are aware of the settlement.
Class Action Lawsuit
A lawsuit where many companies or entities that have been similarly affected by the defendant company's unlawful conduct or anticompetitive practices can initiate a representative lawsuit on behalf of other similarly affected companies. SRG does not get involved in the litigation phase of class action lawsuits. We work on the claims process once a settlement has been reached.
Class Action Settlement
When the court reviews and approves the settlement of a class action lawsuit, and it benefits the large group or class represented in the action. The settlement may involve a lump sum monetary payout to each of the plaintiffs and the eligible class. It may also involve ending the anticompetitive activity that caused harm to the plaintiffs.
The attorney(s) appointed by the court to provide legal representation to the plaintiff class in a class action lawsuit and a class action settlement. Their job is to represent the best interests of the class. Class Counsel will oversee the Claims Administrators actions in managing the claims process once a settlement has been reached.
Collusion is the secret agreement(s) between two or more parties to defraud others or engage in unlawful activity to obtain something prohibited by law; or to obtain an unfair advantage over competitors or customers.
Collusion takes many forms, such as price fixing, secret rebates, and other anticompetitive practices. It is the cause of many antitrust class action lawsuits and class action settlements.
Defendant & Settling Defendant
In a class action antitrust case, the defendant is the company or organization accused by the plaintiff(s) of engaging in anticompetitive actions such as price fixing, collusion, overcharges, underpayments, manipulation of standard rates, etc., in violation of federal antitrust laws. A settling defendant agreed to pay money into a settlement fund to pay claimants for their role in the antitrust action, usually without admitting guilt. If there are multiple defendants, the settlement fund may grow as additional defendants settle, sometimes leading to multiple rounds of claims filing and distributions in the same settlement.
Several weeks or months after the filing deadline, a claims administrator will determine that a claim is missing data, or needs clarification or documentation to substantiate the claim. They will send claimants a Deficiency Notice requesting that the missing information or documentation be provided. A claims administrator may send out additional deficiency notices, even to the same client, during the course of the claims review process. Deficiency notices will have response deadlines that are a certain number of days from when they are mailed, usually 20 to 30 days. Failure to respond to a deficiency notice can mean that a claim is reduced or denied outright.
SRG anticipates when deficiency notices may be sent and we prepare our clients for any impending deficiency notices or audits. SRG interacts directly with the claims administrators to address questions or issues. We try to limit the client's involvement in deficiency notices and audits, which may otherwise be burdensome and time consuming.
Direct & Indirect Purchasers
Direct purchasers are plaintiffs and class members who directly purchased the products or services from one or more of the defendants in an antitrust class action. They may be original equipment manufacturers, distributors, retailers or large companies. Often direct purchasers bought a product in order to resell it.
Indirect purchasers are plaintiffs and class members who purchased products or services from one or more of the defendants for their own use, and not for resale. They may be companies with large numbers of employees, such as those who bought CRT and LCD screens. They may be hotels or restaurant chains who bought polyurethane foam for beds, carpeting or furniture.
Most antitrust class action settlements involve charges of anticompetitive practices and price-fixing that affects both direct and indirect purchasers. However, direct and indirect purchasers are considered two separate classes, and often there will be separate settlements, settlement funds, and even separate claims administrators for direct and indirect purchasers.
SRG will file claims and pursue refunds for both direct and indirect purchaser settlements, even if we are filing for the same company. There have been instances of clients being eligible for both settlements, and eligibility criteria can change as a settlement progresses. Also, certain direct purchasers may have subsidiaries or affiliated business entities that are eligible for indirect purchaser refunds.
Once a settlement concludes and the submitted claims have been reviewed, audited, evaluated for their pro rata payment, and all objections and appeals are done, the court will receive and eventually approve a Motion to Distribute. This means that our clients will receive their awards. The Distribution occurs several weeks from when the Motion to Distribute is approved. The claims administrator pays SRG, and we send checks to our clients showing the award amount, the SRG contingency fee, and the net payment that they will receive. Often there are multiple distribution payouts for several years as the settlement fund winds down.
For indirect purchaser settlements, certain states will not be eligible, or the settlement periods and types of eligible products may vary. There are several reasons why this happens, but our clients only care about their potential eligibility to obtain a refund for their purchases. SRG will optimize the chance to file direct and indirect claims for our clients, even if several years have passed between direct and indirect settlements. Some indirect settlements for particular states (Illinois and Washington) have occurred years after a larger LCD Indirect Purchaser settlement paid out. SRG takes the long view, and our clients have benefitted.
Once a settlement is reached, the court will hold a hearing where the fairness of the proposed settlement is evaluated. The court will hear any objections to a proposed settlement and decide that the settlement is reasonable and fair, and will also discuss the attorneys' fees.
When a settlement receives final approval, court notices are sent out to class members notifying them that they may be eligible to receive a refund from the class action settlement. The notice announces a filing deadline to submit claims. Filing deadlines can vary or be postponed, but they are often 90 days from the approval of the settlement.
SRG is in contact with thousands of potentially eligible claimants, so when the filing deadline is finalized, we are in a position to file your claim. For companies that may want to file a claim but are too busy, or do not have spending information available, SRG will file a "placeholder claim" for them. The placeholder claim reserves a place in the settlement, and enables SRG and our clients to come up with spending information or estimates that are acceptable to the claims administrator.
Also known as MDL, it is the procedure for consolidating similar cases which may have common issues, plaintiffs, defendants, etc. Class action lawsuits often begin as individual civil cases filed in federal courts across the country, and are consolidated and given an MDL number to replace their CV (civil) number. The consolidated case goes to one district court and judge to be administered. Class action settlements may have multiple case numbers, but they usually have a single MDL number and are handled by one court.
When class members exclude themselves from a class proceeding. This action has generally has the effect of not binding the class member to any judgment in the case. It also has the effect of excluding a class member from being able to participate in any settlement or favorable judgment. In a class action settlement, some class members that could be eligible claimants will opt out so they may pursue their own actions against the defendants.
The party who initiates the lawsuit(s) by filing a complaint with the clerk of the court against the defendant companies for their anticompetitive behavior or illegal action, and demand monetary damages and an end to the behavior that triggered the legal action. Plaintiffs may be either named or unnamed.
Major class action settlements (Air Cargo, Flexible Polyurethane Foam, LCD Flat Panels, US Foodservice, etc.) may pay out refund money to eligible claimants over several years. Settlements with multiple defendants receive payments over time, as defendants pay into the settlement funds at various intervals. Also, claims administrators often withhold funds to cover administrative and other expenses, and will pay refunds as the money becomes available.
SRG tracks all cases where residual distributions are likely, to make sure our clients receive payments as the funds become available for distribution. Our clients often receive checks for years after a settlement was reached but the payments continue.
Schedule of Purchases
SRG modifies the claims administrator's claim form to help clients list and present their eligible expenditures to qualify for a refund. SRG will tailor the Schedule of Purchases to make the filing easier to understand and to supplement with any information that may increase the likelihood of a client receiving a recovery. A well-documented Schedule of Purchases is viewed as more credible, and is less likely to receive a deficiency notice by the claims administrator. This in turn helps a client's claim be approved for payment.
Also known as the class period, it is the specific time frame during which a defendant company is alleged to have been improperly conducting the business that caused the lawsuit. The class period is spelled out in court documents and in the public notice about the settlement. Even if the anticompetitive activities are alleged to have taken place over a longer period of time, a finite settlement period is agreed upon to facilitate the settlement and the administration of submitted claims.