2019:519 Quanta Storage, Inc. v European Commission

Court General Court
Date of ruling 12 July 2019
Case name (short version) Quanta Storage, Inc. v European Commission
Case Citation T-772/15

ECLI:EU:T:2019:519

Key words Competition — Agreements, decisions and concerted practices — Market for optical disk drives — Decision finding an infringement of Article 101 TFEU and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement — Collusive agreements relating to bidding events concerning optical disk drives for notebook and desktop computers — Rights of the defence — Obligation to state reasons — Principle of good administration — Fines — Single and continuous infringement — 2006 Guidelines on the method of setting fines
Basic context In its judgment in Quanta Storage v Commission (T-772/15), delivered on 12 July 2019, the Tribunal, on the one hand, rejected the application of Quanta Storage, Inc. (‚the applicant‘) seeking, principally, partial annulment of Commission Decision C(2015) 7135 final of 21 October 2015{1} and, in the alternative, reduction of the amount of the fine imposed on it by that decision on account of an infringement of the rules of competition in the sector of the production and supply of optical disc players (‚ODDs‘). The Tribunal also rejected the Commission’s application for an increase in the amount of the fine which it had imposed on the applicant.
Points arising – admissibility  –
Points arising – substance Competition – Fines – Amount – Determination – Commission’s discretion – Judicial review – Full jurisdiction of the Union judicature – Scope – Amount of the fine resulting from the consideration of a materially inaccurate factual element – Increase in the fine – Burden of proof

Following an administrative investigation initiated on denunciation, the Commission concluded that thirteen companies had participated in a cartel on the ODD market. Under the contested decision, the Commission established that, at least from 23 June 2004 to 25 November 2008, the participants in that prohibited cartel had coordinated their conduct in relation to the tendering procedures organised by the computer manufacturers Dell and Hewlett Packard.

According to the Commission, the companies involved had sought, through a network of parallel bilateral contacts, to ensure that the prices of ODD products remained at higher levels than they would have been in the absence of those bilateral contacts. Accordingly, the Commission imposed a fine of EUR 7 146 000 on the applicant for infringement of Article 101 TFEU and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement.

In support of its action, the applicant relied on five pleas in law, alleging, inter alia, infringements of the rights of the defence, the obligation to state reasons and the right to sound administration, a lack of evidence as to its participation in a single and continuous infringement, the Commission’s lack of competence to apply Article 101 TFEU and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement and errors of fact and law in the calculation of the amount of the fine. Those pleas in law were, however, all rejected by the Tribunal.

For its part, the Commission requested the Tribunal in its defence, in addition to dismissing the action, to exercise its unlimited jurisdiction to increase the amount of the fine imposed on the applicant by EUR 40 000, on the ground that the original calculation of the fine had been based on certain estimates provided by the applicant which had been contradicted by figures provided by Dell on the same day as the adoption of the contested decision.

In that regard, the Tribunal pointed out first of all that, although the exercise of its unlimited jurisdiction is most often requested by the applicants in the sense of a reduction in the amount of the fine, there is nothing to prevent the Commission from also submitting to the Court of Justice of the European Union the question of the amount of the fine and making an application for an increase in that amount. Since the amount of the fine cannot be maintained where it results from the taking into consideration of a materially inaccurate factual element, the Tribunal then examined the estimates provided by the appellant and challenged by the Commission and compared them with the estimates provided by Dell and relied on by the Commission.

However, the Tribunal considered that, although the latter appeared to be better substantiated, they were not sufficiently reliable for it to be established with certainty that the appellant’s estimates were materially inaccurate. The Tribunal concluded that the benefit of the doubt must be given to the applicant and rejected the Commission’s request.

{1 Commission Decision C(2015) 7135 final of 21 October 2015 relating to a proceeding pursuant to Article 101 TFEU and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement (Case AT.39639 – Optical disc drives).}

Intervention  –
Interim measures  –
Order
  1. Dismisses the action;
  2. Dismisses the European Commission’s request that the amount of the fine of Quanta Storage, Inc. be increased;
  3. Orders Quanta Storage to bear its own costs and to pay four fifths of the costs incurred by the Commission.
Fine changed  –
Case duration 3 years 7 months
Judge-rapporteur Ulloa Rubio
Notes on academic writings Idot, Laurence: Cartels (2), Europe 2019 Mois Comm. nº 10 p.33 (FR)

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