The amateur astronomers to file class-action lawsuits alleging telescope price-fixing conspiracy

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away — in fact, Taiwan, 1980 — a man by the name of Dar Tson “David” Shen began a telescope of the company.Four decades later, in a court, in Northern California, Shen and B. C.-based family are accused in the two class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of amateur astronomers who claim that they are victims of a gigantic price-fixing conspiracy.

“Since the beginning of time, humans have looked beyond their world into the night sky,” read the first lines of one of the two suits, filed by plaintiff Daniel Hightower.

“But if you like astronomy and you want to share your joy with others, you must pay a price hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal overcharges. “

A constellation of companies

The project of the class of shares are the latest development in a legal battle that has seen the iconic UNITED states telescope corporation Meade Instruments file for bankruptcy last year after a jury ruled against the company and its Chinese parent company, Ningbo Sunny, a $50.4 million US antitrust suit filed by a competitor.

Hightower, a telescope of consumer and amateur astronomy enthusiast, ” has filed the first application for a class action at the beginning of June.

The observation of the stars is a popular pastime in the united States. But a class-action lawsuit claims that people who choose to study the sky with telescopes have been constantly overloaded. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

Sigurd Murphy, a former California amateur astronomer and telescope collector, and Keith Uehara, a Hawaiian photographer and amateur astronomer, tabled their request this week.

They are all looking to represent the amateur astronomers across the united States, a market in which 80% of the recreational telescopes are made by Ningbo Sunny or Shen company, Synta Technology.

Neither trial has been certified by a court — but they both accuse Synta and a constellation of associated companies to work with Ningbo Sunny to divide the telescope market, price-fixing, retaliation against competitors and to ” dominate the UNITED states market so that they could rip off the consumer. ”

The lawsuit, which cites the earlier decision of the court, request Shen controlled by the companies through the use of ” mercenaries “, including the sisters Sylvia and John, who would have to live in B. C.

According to Hightower of the request from Sylvia Shen is a member of the executive committee of Celestron, a dominant U.S. telescope retailer, which is owned by Synta, and John Shen is in control of two Olivon Canada and Olivon usa, North American telescope companies.

Hightower further stated that the two women participated, planned and carried out the conspiracy “together with their brother and others, including a B. C.-based” advisor and confidant. ”

Synta, Olivon, Celestron and another pair of related companies, Sky-Watcher USA and Sky-Watcher Canada, are accused of being part of a network that is ” directly and indirectly owned and controlled by the president of Shen, and the members of his family. ”

“They are managed in the common interest of the one to the other and president of Shen, and have helped, encouraged, and cooperated with the defendants and their co-conspirators to fix the prices of telescopes, and to dominate and to allocate markets for the telescope manufacturing and distribution,” Hightower continued requests.

A history of the broader UNITED states-China relations

According to figures published in February by the market research company Global Market research world, the amateur telescope market is expected to grow to $ 294 million per year by 2025. The North American market represents the largest part of the sum.

San Francisco-based lawyer Matthew Borden represents Hightower, and was part of the team that won the lawsuit against Meade and Ningbo Sunny.

In an interview with CBC news, he said that the history of Meade and Celestron — both based in the UNITED states, but now owned by Chinese parent companies — speak to a larger business trend.

“It’s interesting, broader of history in the U. S where Celestron used to be a manufacturer himself, Meade used to be a manufacturer himself, and once the manufacturers in China realized that they could make a lot more money for having a brand, Synta bought Celestron and Ningbo Sunny purchased Meade,” Borden said.

“And then they transferred all manufacturing to China. “

One of the lawyers representing the astronomers said the telescope industry is an example of a larger pattern in the relations between the UNITED states and China in the manufacturing that has left the united States. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

Celestron and Meade are the two dominant players in the U.S. telescope market.

Hightower’s trial, said the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has blocked two of the amalgamation in 1991 and again in 2002, for fear of creating a monopoly. Synta bought Celestron in 2005.

When Meade went up for sale in 2013, Hightower claims Shen has made an offer which has seen Ningbo Sunny to buy the business.

The companies “colluded not to compete with each other,” the lawsuit claims. “This conspiracy is revealed in numerous e-mails. ”

The lawsuit cites documents that were part of the previous of the court to win, which one would speak of a “tacit agreement” about not competing for sales to Costco.

The result of the alleged conspiracy is a reduction in the consumption of choice in telescopes and the elimination of competition on the prices of tens of thousands of customers. The Hightower lawsuit estimates damages at $ 350 million. The second complaint said that there are thousands of amateur astronomers in the UNITED states

Company disputes lawsuit claims

Shen could not be reached for comment.

In an e-mail to the CBC, Celestron has said that he would not comment on the ongoing litigation, but “unequivocally” rejected the allegations.

“Celestron has rightfully earned its position as the world’s most popular telescope of the brand through our 60 years of effort on the part of generations of employees,” the company said.

“We are ready to defend Celestron and of our collective achievements and are confident that the judicial system will ultimately find that the allegation is without foundation. ”

Olivon and Sky-Watcher does not respond to e-mails requesting comment from the SRC. None of the companies have filed an answer to the court.

Borden, Hightower’s lawyer, said the case has broad implications for amateur astronomers.

“I love astronomy, and I love watching the stars,” he said. “What I would like to do, through these actions, is to change the way the industry operates and to restore competition. It will be better for everyone. With competition comes innovation. ”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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