Court denies summary judgment in ramen noodle class action, price-fixing claim
The case, In re Korean Ramen Antitrust Litigation, involved an alleged conspiracy to raise the prices of ramen noodles in Korea and the United States among several makers of ramen noodles. Both direct and indirect purchasers of the ramen noodles brought a class action lawsuit against the defendants asserting a Sherman Act claim and several state law claims. The purchasers came forward with evidence that the defendants:
- Made public, pretextual statements about the price increase of ramen noodles.
- Altered or destroyed relevant documents.
- Shared sensitive information about the alleged conspiracy in a way that would go undetected.
The district court ultimately declined to weigh in on the split regarding the discovery rule, and instead evaluated the tolling issue within the fraudulent concealment framework. Fraudulent concealment can toll an otherwise applicable statute of limitations where:
- Defendants conceal their conduct from the plaintiffs through affirmative acts
- The plaintiffs are actually ignorant of the wrongful conduct
- The plaintiffs were reasonably diligent in attempting to discover the misconduct in response to information they may have received about it.
This decision is notable for two reasons. First, it highlights the circuit split on the issue of whether the discovery rule can toll the statute of limitations for Sherman Act claims. Second, it shows that antitrust plaintiffs can, in some circumstances, use fraudulent concealment to achieve the same tolling effect. Antitrust plaintiffs faced with a statute of limitations issue therefore would be well advised to focus their investigations and discovery not just on their own lack of knowledge of the claim but also on any acts by the defendants to fraudulently conceal it.