Ajinomoto Wins Summary Judgment in Antitrust Class Action

August 11, 2008

Cleary Gottlieb represented Ajinomoto Co. Inc., which was granted summary judgment at the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in an antitrust class action alleging that Ajinomoto and three other manufacturers conspired to fix prices and allocate markets for aspartame over a ten-year period. The court announced the decision on August 11.

Because neither plaintiff had purchases within the four-year limitations period and because the court found that the fraudulent concealment doctrine did not apply, the court entered judgment in favor of defendants.

The Court’s ruling drew heavily on the 30(b)(6) deposition testimony of the named plaintiffs to conclude that plaintiffs had failed to exercise the requisite due diligence in investigating their claims. In addition, Cleary Gottlieb’s discovery efforts identified an aspartame market study first published in 1993 that plaintiffs had quoted verbatim in portions of their complaint. The court found that the study and other publicly available facts provided sufficient warnings about defendants’ alleged illegal marketing and sales practices.

Finally, in concluding that plaintiffs had failed to identify the facts, other than conversations with their attorneys, that alerted them to their claims, the court noted that plaintiffs could have “filed the same complaint in 2010 rather than 2006.... and that [plaintiffs cannot] craft their pleadings in such a way as to avoid all implications of the statute of limitations.”