Shippers have until Nov. 15 to decide whether to accept a share of $52.25 million or a two-year rate freeze ocean carriers are offering to settle class-action lawsuits over six years of price-fixing in U.S. mainland-Puerto Rico shipping.
U.S. District Judge Daniel R. Dominguez of San Juan issued an order allowing customers to receive settlement offers of $20 million from Horizon Lines, $18.5 million from Sea Star Line and $13.75 million from Crowley Maritime.
The three lines hope the settlements will end civil antitrust lawsuits seeking damages for collusion on rates and surcharges between 2002 and April 17, 2008, when federal agents raided the lines’ offices.
The raids were part of a ongoing Justice Department criminal investigation into price-fixing in Jones Act domestic transport. Five former carrier officials – three from Horizon and two from Sea Star –pleaded guilty to antitrust violations or concealing evidence.
Civil antitrust lawsuits that followed news of the criminal investigation were consolidated into a class-action case against the three lines. Dominguez dismissed allegations against a fourth carrier, Trailer Bridge, saying there was no evidence the line was involved in price-fixing.
In deciding on whether to accept the settlements by Horizon, Sea Star and Crowley, shippers and intermediaries have three options: They can take a share of the money, or receive a two-year freeze in base rates, or they can opt out of the settlement and return to court on their own. Shippers do not have to choose the same option for each carrier’s offer.
In his order allowing the settlements to be presented to shippers, the judge revealed no new details about the case. The carrier settlement offers are based on an amended antitrust complaint that remains sealed by the court.
In a separate case, U.S. District Court Judge Gustavo Gelpi declined to dismiss a class-action lawsuit filed against Horizon, Sea Star and Crowley on behalf of consumers and others who purchased goods the carriers transported when they were colluding on rates.
Gelpi declined to rule on the carriers’ contention the consumer lawsuit should apply only to goods purchased in Puerto Rico, saying that was an issue for the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to decide.