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U.S. judge won't end credit card antitrust case


(Reuters)—A federal judge refused to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit accusing Citigroup Inc. and Discover Financial Services of conspiring to force credit card holders to agree to mandatory arbitration clauses in their cardholder agreements, and refusing to issue cards to people who did not agree.

Citigroup and Discover are the final defendants facing claims over arbitration clauses in the decade-old, nationwide case overseen by U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan.

Bank of America Corp., Capital One Financial Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are among other card issuers that have settled.

Citigroup spokeswoman Emily Collins declined to comment. Discover did not immediately respond to phone and email requests for comment.

Another part of the litigation accuses card issuers of conspiring to fix foreign currency conversion fees.

Pauley said it was premature to dismiss the collusion claims over arbitration clauses, citing among other factors "each defendant's decision to adopt an arbitration clause that roughly mirrored those used by its competitors."

He also noted the defendants' frequent attendance between 1999 and 2003 at meetings with rivals to discuss arbitration, and said the "voluminous record" in the case "could suggest that defendants used the meetings to concoct a conspiracy to adopt arbitration clauses and boycott consumers who rejected them."

Pauley separately rejected the cardholders' request for a ruling that Discover has failed to provide any pro-competitive justification for its conduct.

In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has in a series of rulings made it easier for companies to enforce mandatory arbitration to resolve customer disputes.

But last week, Carlyle Group L.P. dropped its plan to require shareholders to resolve claims through arbitration, after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said it would not approve the private equity firm's initial public offering with such a provision.

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