A U.S. District Court for the second time dismissed a class-action shipper lawsuit accusing Horizon Lines and Matson Navigation of price-fixing on routes between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii and Guam.
U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly of Seattle dismissed the lawsuit on grounds the filed-rate doctrine precludes antitrust claims related to tariffs filed with a federal regulatory agency. He said the shippers could take their case to the Surface Transportation Board, which has jurisdiction over domestic shipping rates.
Zilly dismissed the lawsuit in May 2009 but allowed the plaintiffs to file an amended version. The amended version argued that some shipments comprised bulk cargo or forest products that are exempt from rate regulation. Zilly said those claims were essentially the same ones he rejected in the original class-action suit.
He also said the plaintiffs failed to support their claims that the carriers participated in an antitrust conspiracy.
The lawsuits were filed in the wake of the Justice Department's 2008 announcement of a criminal investigation into price-fixing in domestic shipping covered by the Jones Act.
Five officials of Horizon and Sea Star Line pleaded guilty to antitrust violations or concealing evidence in the Puerto Rico trade, where Horizon, Sea Star and Crowley have offered a $52.25 million settlement of a class-action civil lawsuit.
Some 230 shipper entities, including Wal-Mart, Unilever, Home Depot, Kraft and Procter & Gamble, have opted out of the Puerto Rico class-action settlement. Opting out of the settlement frees the shippers to file their own antitrust lawsuits or seek other settlements with the carriers.
A total of 1,470 shippers, mostly individuals or small companies, have agreed to the Puerto Rico settlements. The 230 shippers that have opted out of the Puerto Rico settlement include multiple subsidiaries of some of the companies.
-- Contact Joseph Bonney at email@example.com.