No conspiracy found in big credit card collusion lawsuit

Most of the merchant credit card processing and interchange litigation that has made waves in the payments industry over the last few months belonged to the merchant interchange fees associated with several banks and the credit card companies MasterCard and Visa. However, there has been another suit involving American Express, Citigroup and Discover that was ruled in the card providers' favor last week.

According to Reuters, the three credit card issuers had been accused in a lawsuit of colluding to require disputes to be settled in arbitration instead of through class action lawsuits. The incidents in question happened between May 1999 and October 2003, when 10 card-issuing banks and their lawyers met nearly 30 times to discuss imposing mandatory arbitration clauses in cardholder agreements.

With a class action lawsuit, consumers are able to pool together their resources and obtain greater recoveries at a lower cost than trying to go through individual arbitration.

The decision came down by U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan. In the 92-page decision document, Pauley wrote that it was by a "slender reed" that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that representatives of these card providers had conspired to violate the Sherman antitrust act.

"This is a big dent for consumer rights," said Curtis Arnold, a consumer advocate and founder of CardRatings.com in Little Rock, Arkansas. "Class action lawsuits have over the years kept this industry in check. Individuals don't have much recourse taking on card giants by themselves."

There is a clear divide between who won and who lost in this situation. However, the aftermath of the announcement is still yet to be felt.

by Ty Hardison

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