Franck, 65, has been an industry gadfly and thorn in the side of the paint and supplies companies for many years. He's been a jobber on and off for 40 years. He was a 3M distributor in Palo Alto until that company dropped him (he says for discounting) in 1966. In the early '90's he was selling DuPont paints to body shops in the Bay area at a discount. He was not a DuPont authorized distributor and the company in 1994 took steps to shut him down, threatening to revoke the distributorship of any authorized jobber who sold paint to him in violation of their jobber agreement. He claims that he sued several paint manufacturers for unfair business practices and won substantial but confidential settlements.
Justice Department investigation
The class action lawsuit alleges that in January 2001 the U.S. Department of Justice commenced an investigation into price fixing in the auto refinishing paint industry, particularly into alleged meetings in Europe where DuPont, Sherwin-Williams, PPG, BASF and Akzo Nobel were said to have discussed fixing the wholesale price of paints to be sold in the United States.
It goes on to allege that the paint companies starting in 1993 entered into a conspiracy with their jobbers to set the resale price of paint sold to body shops in California by setting a minimum resale price; that the same paint was sold to entities other than body shops at a lower price known as the "C" schedule price; that this was intended to keep the price of auto refinishing paint artificially high.
The lawsuit estimates that the Defendants currently sell $300 million worth of auto refinishing paint in California. The suit alleges that body shops in California have paid in excess of $50 million in artificially higher prices. The suit asks for treble (3x) damages available under antitrust laws.
After news of the suit appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, several paint manufacturers were quoted in the Journal. DuPont spokesman Cliff Webb said his company is cooperating with the Justice Department probe on the East Coast and that they are evaluating the specifics of the California action.
PPG spokesman Jeff Worden said PPG had not yet reviewed the California complaint but that since the series of lawsuits began "PPG has uncovered no facts that would support a claim that any PPG personnel were involved in any such (price fixing) activity." Spokesmen for Sherwin-Williams and Akzo Nobel have previously denied all claims of wrong-doing in similar actions filed in other states.