Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Lithium Ion Batteries Antitrust Litigation

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 12, 2017

In re Lithium Ion Batteries Antitrust Litigation
v.
LG Chemical Ltd., et al., Defendants. This Relates to TracFone Wireless, Inc., Plaintiff,

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS CLAIMS UNDER FLORIDA LAW

          YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff TracFone Wireless, Inc. (“TracFone”) brings this antitrust action against multiple defendant manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries. TracFone alleges claims under both section one of the Sherman Act and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, Fla. Stat. Section 501.201 et seq. (“FDUTPA”). Defendants NEC Corporation, NEC TOKIN Corporation, Samsung SDI Co., Ltd., Samsung SDI America, Inc., LG Chem America, Inc. and LG Chem, Ltd., Maxell Corporation of America and Hitachi Maxell, Ltd. move[1] to dismiss TracFone's claim under the FDUTPA, contending that the claim is barred by the applicable four-year statute of limitations. See Fla. Stat. §§ 501.207(5), 95.11(3)(f).

         Having carefully considered the papers submitted and the pleadings in this action, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court Denies the Motion to Dismiss.

         TracFone first filed its claim under FDUTPA on April 29, 2015. In its initial complaint, TracFone alleged that defendants engaged in a conspiracy between at least January 1, 2000, through “some time in 2011” to fix, raise, stabilize, and maintain the prices of lithium-ion battery cells, the main components of lithium ion batteries used in a number of consumer products, including mobile wireless handsets. (15-2199, Dkt. No. 1 at Compl.¶¶ 1-4.) TracFone's First Amended Complaint alleges that the conspiracy occurred “from at least as early as January 1, 2000 through at least May 31, 2011.” (Dkt. No. 22, “FAC, ” ¶ 1.) TracFone further alleges that defendants made misleading statements and concealed their wrongdoing so that TracFone did not discover the price-fixing conspiracy until the summer of 2012, well within the four-year time period preceding the filing of its complaint. (FAC ¶¶ 377-399.)

         I. Legal Framework

         “The determination of whether a cause of action is time-barred may involve the separate and distinct issues of when the action accrued and whether the limitation period was tolled.” Hearndon v. Graham, 767 So.2d 1179, 1184 (Fla. 2000). The statute of limitations runs from the time the cause of action accrues, generally the date “when the last element constituting the cause of action occurs.” Id. at 1184-85 (citing Fl. Stat. § 95.031(1).) By contrast, tolling interrupts the running of the time limitation after accrual of the claim. Id. at 1185. Florida Statute section 95.051 enumerates nine categories of tolling of a statute of limitations (subsection (a) - (i)), and further provides that a “disability or other reason does not toll the running of any statute of limitations except those specified in this section, s. 95.091, the Florida Probate Code, or the Florida Guardianship Law.” Fla. Stat. § 95.051(2).

         The Florida Supreme Court has recognized that statutes of limitations, by definition, are legislative constructs and do not supplant common law which is “deeply rooted, and a century old tenet. . . .” Florida Dep't of Health & Rehab. Servs. v. S.A.P, 835 So.2d 1091, 1096 (Fla. 2002) (“S.A.P.”). In this context, the Florida Supreme Court issued a number of opinions creating a framework that confirms a continuing use of common law equitable principles to preclude dismissal based upon the running of the statute of limitations. The Court reviews the progression.

         In 1976, the Florida Supreme Court in Nardone held that “the equitable principle of fraudulent concealment will be utilized to toll the statute of limitations” when the plaintiff can establish “both successful concealment of the cause of action and fraudulent means to achieve that concealment.” Nardone v. Reynolds, 333 So.2d 25, 37 (Fla. 1976) holding modified on other grounds by Tanner v. Hartog, 618 So.2d 177 (Fla. 1993). As the court there stated, “[t]he philosophy behind the exception to the statute of limitations of fraudulent concealment and the tolling of the statute if such concealment exists, is [that] courts will not protect defendants who are directly responsible for the delays of filing because of their own willful acts.” Id. at 36. The court in Nardone did not address the effect of the recently enacted tolling limitations in Florida Statute section 95.051. Nevertheless, subsequent Florida Supreme Court cases confirmed that fraudulent concealment, as an equitable safeguard against a defendant's wrongful conduct preventing the filing of a cause of action, continues to be a viable exception to the statutes of limitation set forth in section 95.051.[2]

         Beginning in 2000, the Florida Supreme Court addressed the issue through a series of cases, first in a case raising the related but distinct delayed discovery doctrine.[3] In Hearndon, the Florida Supreme Court held that “the Legislature limited the justification for tolling limitation periods to the exclusion of delayed discovery due to loss of memory, but did not likewise limit the circumstances under which accrual may have been delayed.” Hearndon, 767 So.2d at 1185.[4] The Hearndon court overruled a lower court's decision that delayed discovery caused by traumatic amnesia would not toll the running of the statute of limitations. Id. Hearndon distinguished the Legislature's restrictions on tolling the statutory clock from equitable principles that effectively prevent the time clock from commencing. Id.

         A year later, in Morsani, the Florida Supreme Court held that “the ‘tolling' proscription in section 95.051 . . . does not embrace the common law doctrine of equitable estoppel, for equitable estoppel is not a ‘tolling' doctrine.” Major League Baseball v. Morsani, 790 So.2d 1071, 1080 (Fla. 2001) (“Morsani”). Presented with the certified question of whether section 95.051 prohibited application of equitable estoppel, the court held that although “[a]s a rule, statutes of limitation impose a strict time limit for filing legal actions . . . [they] can be deflected by several legal theories, including the doctrine of equitable estoppel.” Id. at 1074.

         The following year, in S.A.P., the Florida Supreme Court clarified that because “equitable estoppel is a basic tenet of the common law, ” any statute intended to change the common law, such as a statute of limitations, must state that overruling unequivocally in order to be effective. S.A.P, 835 So.2d at 1098 (citing Thornber v. City of Fort Walton Beach, 568 So.2d 914, 918 (Fla.1990) and Morsani, 790 So.2d at 1076-77). S.A.P. held that equitable common law bases for “deflecting” the statutes of limitations continue to be viable unless specifically abrogated by the legislature. Id. at 1098-99.[5] The S.A.P. court described equitable estoppel as encompassing “an act of wrongdoing-such as fraud and concealment-that prejudices a party's case.” Id. at 1097. The language of the statutory tolling provision at issue there did “not expressly change the common law doctrine of equitable estoppel, [since] it does not mention or allude to that doctrine.” Id. at 1098-99. Thus, the court concluded that the statutory limitations period could be avoided by application of equitable estoppel. Id.

         Despite this line of Florida Supreme Court authority, including S.A.P., defendants contend equitable estoppel only applies in situations where a plaintiff is aware of the facts that form the cause of action but is lulled into delaying suit by some misrepresentation of the defendant. In support of this contention, defendants rely heavily on the decision of the Florida Supreme Court in Ryan v. Lobo De Gonzalez, 921 So.2d 572 (Fla. 2005) (Lobo De Gonzalez II) and the underlying appellate decision in Ryan v. Lobo De Gonzalez, 841 So.2d 510 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2003) (Lobo De Gonzalez I). They argue strenuously that TracFone's reliance on S.A.P. is misplaced, based on Lobo De Gonzalez II and claim:

Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court has subsequently clarified its holding, explaining that the court in S.A.P. “simply created an exception to the [equitable estoppel] doctrine in childhood sexual abuse” cases that does not require plaintiffs in such cases to have prior knowledge of a claim to invoke equitable estoppel. Lobo De Gonzalez, 921 So.2d at 578.
The court did not, however, “intend[] in S.A.P. to extend the doctrine beyond its historical use.” Id. at 577 (noting that “[s]everal facts in S.A.P. render that case unique”). Nor did it “hold that, in all cases where a plaintiff asserts equitable estoppel to avoid the statute of limitations, prior knowledge of the cause of action is no longer required.” Id. Accordingly, S.A.P. does not bring the two ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.