August 4, 2015 / 3:25 PM / 4 years ago

ATM fee lawsuits against Visa, Mastercard, banks revived on appeal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court has revived litigation against Visa Inc (V.N), Mastercard Inc (MA.N) and several U.S. banks accusing them of conspiring to inflate the prices of ATM access fees in violation of antitrust law.

A coffee shop displays signs for Visa, MasterCard and Discover, in Washington, May 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In a decision on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said a district court erred when it concluded that consumers had no standing to sue and had not adequately alleged antitrust violations. It remanded the three consolidated lawsuits to the district court for further proceedings.

The decision revives two class actions brought by consumers and another one brought by independent ATM operators.

Their lawsuits accused Visa and MasterCard of adopting rules protecting themselves from competition with lower-cost ATM network. The rules blocked ATM operators from charging less when ATM transactions were processed by networks competing with Visa and Mastercard, the lawsuits said.

The rules also benefited major banks, which were equity shareholders of Visa and Mastercard, the lawsuits said.

The lawsuits seek damages for consumers and ATM operators for violations of antitrust law.

The ruling sends the litigation back to the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, where the complaints were dismissed in 2013. Steve Berman, a lawyer for the consumers, said he plans to seek permission to amend the complaints.

“This is a big win for consumers, who now can seek not only damages caused by the defendants but can now also pursue an injunction that will spark competition in the ATM market,” Berman said.

Matthew Eisenstein, a lawyer for Visa, declined comment. Lawyers for Mastercard could not immediately be reached for comment.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuits were Bank of America (BAC.N), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC.N). The lawsuit said that the banks controlled Visa and MasterCard and set higher ATM charges before the credit card companies went public in 2008 and 2006, respectively. Lawyers for the banks could not immediately be reached for comment.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the appeals panel said “it can be inferred” that banks continue to benefit from the challenged conduct because they still own shares in Visa and Mastercard.

The case is Sam Osborn et al v Visa Inc et al, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, No 14-7004

Reporting By Dena Aubin; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alan Crosby and David Gregorio

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