4/15/2014 7:04:00 AM,
Philip A. Janquart
(CN) - Chinese manufacturers must face a $1.5 billion complaint accusing them of conspiring to corner the U.S. solar panel market, a federal judge ruled.
Solyndra LLC, once based in Fremont, Calif., is just one of at least a dozen solar-panel makers in the United States that declared bankruptcy when Chinese manufacturers allegedly dumped their products here at below-market prices. The 2012 antitrust lawsuit alleges that Suntech Power Holdings Ltd., Trina Solar Inc. and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. Ltd. conspired to dominate the U.S. market by slashing their prices by as much as 70 percent.
The Chinese companies belong to the China New Energy Chamber of Commerce and hatched the plan to dominate the American market at annual meetings, according to the Solyndra complaint. Some of the companies' executives also hold top positions within the China New Energy.
Under Solyndra's late 2012 liquidation plan, all of the company's assets, as well as the antitrust lawsuit, were transferred to the Solyndra Residual Trust, with R. Todd Neilson acting as liquidating trustee.
The lawsuit alleges conspiracy and combination to dump product and fix prices under the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Cartwright Act, predatory pricing under California's Unfair Practices Act, tortious interference with existing agreements, and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.
U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong refused to dismiss the first amended complaint in Oakland, Calif., on March 31.
Here the companies' alleged membership with the China New Energy Chamber of Commerce is a sufficient vehicle for conspiracy, the court found.
"The pleadings specifically allege facts that are more than sufficient to suggest that defendants reached an agreement to fix prices and flood the American market with their below cost Chinese-made panels for the purpose of stifling competition," she said. "The FAC alleges that defendants effectively controlled their industry trade organization, China New Energy, and held meetings at its annual forums to coordinate their market strategy, including the coordinated, drastic lowering of prices to dominate the American market for solar panels."
Armstrong noted that the pleadings also "allege that defendants' conduct has deprived consumers of technological choices and innovative technology options. The elimination of 'market alternatives' may also be considered a form of antitrust injury," she said.