Forever Should Be Cheaper: Third Circuit Upholds De Beers Settlement - Contract Law - U.S. Third Circuit
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Forever Should Be Cheaper: Third Circuit Upholds De Beers Settlement

A diamond may be forever, but it shouldn't be so expensive.

So says the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which reinstated a $295 million antitrust settlement against South African company De Beers, the world's largest diamond supplier and self-proclaimed "world's diamond experts."

The multi-million dollar settlement is part of an agreement by De Beers to remedy injuries suffered by U.S. jewelry makers, retailers and consumers who purchased diamonds and diamond jewelry beginning in 1994.

The plaintiffs claimed De Beers had unlawfully monopolized the supply of diamonds; conspired to fix, raise, and control diamond prices; and issued false and misleading advertising. According to the agreement, $22.5 million would be distributed to those who directly purchased diamonds and jewelry from De Beers and $272.5 million was to be given to those who purchased De Beers diamonds through other retailers.

The case has bounced back and forth between the lower court and the Third Circuit - most recently with a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit invalidating the settlement because the indirect purchaser class was overbroad and the certification order did not sufficiently identify those claims and issues subject to the class treatment. Specifically, the panel found issue with the fact that some members of the class came from states that prohibit certain consumers from recovering damages for antitrust violations.

The Court of Appeals' most recent decision, however, reinstated the settlement, upheld the propriety of the certification of the classes and, for the first time, considered the objections raised to the fairness of the class settlement.

With respect to class certification standards, the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's order certifying the classes because "differences in state law did not override predominantly common factual and legal issues presented by De Beers's integral role in perpetuating the alleged conspiracy." These differences became even less relevant when deciding whether to certify a class for settlement as compared to litigation.

Further, the Third Circuit held that the lower court's ruling did not violate the Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, finding that the relevant inquiry for class certification under Dukes is whether the defendant's conduct was common to all of the class members.

This common conduct was found to be especially prevalent in antitrust cases "because a major focus is the allegedly anticompetitive conduct of the defendant and its downstream effects on plaintiffs," Circuit Judge Anthony Scirica wrote in a concurring opinion.

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