How The Visa/Mastercard Class Action Antitrust Litigation Affects Petroleum Marketers
Many petroleum marketers are now receiving settlement information concerning the Visa/Mastercard class action antitrust litigation. Marketers have the choice to accept the settlement, opt out or object. Here is a summary of the situation, courtesy of PMAA President, Dan Gilligan. Dan’s diverse career as a lobbyist and association executive has spanned 22 years. PMAA’s most important mission is to collectively represent 8,000 independent petroleum marketing companies on matters pending before the U.S. Congress and the federal regulatory agencies.
Tait Environmental Services is a proud member of PMAA through the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association.
Information on the Settlement
The proposed settlement offers marketers money damages. The exact amount of money to be received is unclear at this time, however attorneys estimate that retailers could receive approximately three months’ worth of interchange. In addition, the settlement provides for limited modifications to Visa’s and MasterCard’s surcharging rules, by which, under certain circumstances, marketers will be allowed to surcharge customers who pay with Visa or MasterCard. The settlement offers merchants no changes to the interchange or “swipe fee” rules that are the centerpiece of the case.
On November 27, 2012, the federal court preliminarily approved the proposed settlement. Now Judge John Gleeson must decide whether to grant final approval to the settlement. Between now and May 28, 2013, class members can let Judge Gleeson know what they think of the settlement, including by opting out and submitting written objections to it. Marketers who do not opt out or object will automatically accept the settlement and will be viewed by the court as affirmatively supporting its terms. Marketers who wish to accept the settlement do not need to take any action now. If and when the judge gives final approval to the settlement, all merchants in the class will receive claim forms. Details are available at www.paymentcardsettlement.com.
Most retailer trade associations oppose the settlement because it does not bring any meaningful relief to retailers. While it will bring some monetary payments to marketers who accept credit cards, there is nothing to prevent Visa and MasterCard from hiking rates in the future to recoup the settlement costs. In addition, the settlement will bar retailers– whether they object, opt out or participate in the settlement– from ever suing the Visa and MasterCard over futureinterchange fees and the other issues raised by the lawsuit. Though this settlement is unfair, retailers who opt out of the settlement will not receive any of the settlement funds, and they may never realize any monetary relief through future actions. It is impossible to predict whether retailers opting out of the settlement will have the wherewithal to file a new lawsuit over past damages, on their own, or collectively with others. Even if they did so, it would likely be many, many years before it is resolved. Marketers will not risk losing their share of the settlement funds if they object to the settlement, but do not opt out.
Each marketer who accepted Visa and/or MasterCard at any time between January 1, 2004 and November 27, 2012 or accepts those cards today needs to decide on its own how to respond to the settlement.
If you independently conclude that the settlement is bad for you and/or for marketers generally, you can (i) opt out of the money damages (only) portion of the settlement and object to it, or (ii) object to the settlement, but not opt out of it. Either of these choices, which are explained more fully below, must be exercised by May 28, 2013. Regardless of whether you opt out or object, you will be subject to the injunctive relief and the release if the proposed settlement is finally approved in September (subject to any appeals).
Details on Objecting to the Settlement
What does it mean to object to the settlement?
Objecting to the settlement means telling Judge Gleeson and the proponents of the settlement why you oppose it. Even if you opt out to preserve your right to seek past damages, you will still be bound by the release and the various purported rules changes (offered in lieu of swipe fee changes). If you do not object, you will have relinquished your only opportunity to make your opposition known to Judge Gleeson and have it noted in the record for appeal. Therefore, if you think the deal is bad overall, you should consider opting out and objecting (explained below).
What is the benefit of objecting?
The benefit of objecting is that you (along with other objectors) may persuade Judge Gleeson that the settlement is unfair, thus it should not be finally approved. You may also be able to file or join an appeal if Judge Gleeson decides to grant final approval. Further, if you do not object, you will have relinquished your only opportunity to make your opposition known to the court and noted in the record for appeal. Therefore, if you do not accept all of the settlement’s terms, you should consider objecting (as well as opting out).
What are the costs or risks of objecting?
We are not aware of significant costs or risks of objecting. It is your right to let Judge Gleeson know how you feel about the settlement.
What are the benefits of opting out and objecting together?
Opting out and objecting is the most complete way to express your opposition to the settlement.You will put the most pressure on Judge Gleeson to reject the settlement. You will also get the best protection from any argument that you have accepted the settlement’s release terms. And you will be entitled to sue for past damages.
Can I object and not opt out?
Yes. However, as noted below, if you do not opt out you will lose your right to sue for more damages for conduct that occurred before November 27, 2012.
How do I object?
You object to the settlement by submitting a Statement of Objections to Judge Gleeson and the lawyers for the proponents of the settlement at the addresses below by May 28, 2013. Two sample objections are available – one for retailers who opt out and one for retailers who do not opt out. You can complete the appropriate sample and submit it, or use it as an example to draft your own objection. If you draft your own objection, be sure to include all of the information in the sample
As mentioned earlier, each marketer must make a decision on what they determine to be their best course of action. There very well may be a follow-up class action lawsuit suing for damages for years prior to January 1, 2004 but it is not a certainty.
For more information, contact:Dan Gilligan, President Petroleum Marketers Association of America PMAA 1901 North Fort Myer Drive, Suite 500 Arlington, Virginia 22209-1604