Consumer Protection – Antitrust

ATM Access Fees

M&S filed a potential class action lawsuit on behalf of  consumers against the major American banks (Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co.) and ATM network companies (Visa, MasterCard), alleging they colluded to fix prices that people are charged for using an out-of-network ATM machine, called “ATM access fees.”

Plaintiffs allege that defendants effect this scheme through a rule that an ATM can only charge an access fee on the Visa/MasterCard network if it charges no lesser amount for transactions on other networks. Without such a rule, a competitive market place would allow ATM networks and operators to negotiate discounts on fees and benefit consumers.

Anyone who has used an out-of-network ATM was likely subjected to an ATM access fee. If you have been charged an access fee when withdrawing cash, and would like to learn more about the case, please contact us.

Rail Freight

M&S represents a lumber company in a proposed class action alleging that defendants, who provide rail freight transportation services, conspired to fix their prices. Price-fixing is one of the most serious antitrust violations, and constitutes a “per se” violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, a per se violation being one that is so malicious that an inquiry into its reasonableness is unwarranted.
Plaintiffs allege that that the defendants are perpetrating a continuing scheme to keep prices at a level above market value. The suit contends that this is done by assessing customers a rail fuel surcharge – a separately identified fee on customer bills which purportedly compensates defendants for increases in fuel costs. Plaintiffs allege that defendants, by computing the surcharge as a percentage of revenue rather than as a percentage of the actual cost of fuel, use this device as a mechanism to increase the cost of transport regardless of the price of fuel.

Additionally, plaintiffs alleged that the defendants frequently exchanged information between their companies on the rates that would be charged to customers. The result of this information exchange was perpetually increasing prices to supracompetitive levels that would not be feasible in a free market environment.

This case is currently in litigation in the Federal District Court of Washington, D.C.