* Visa, MasterCard, JPMorgan, BofA, Wells Fargo win
* No conspiracy to fix prices found
By Jonathan Stempel
Feb 13 A federal judge has dismissed antitrust
lawsuits accusing Visa Inc, MasterCard Inc,
JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp and
Wells Fargo & Co of conspiring to fix automated teller
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C.,
said that, while the three lawsuits "bristle with indignation,"
the plaintiffs failed to show they were injured, or that there
was a conspiracy to charge excessive or artificially high fees.
"Notwithstanding plaintiffs' adamant insistence that
consumers are being overcharged, the court simply could not find
facts to support that contention," Jackson wrote.
The plaintiffs included several individual consumers, 13
owners and operators of independent non-bank ATMs that compete
with bank ATMs, as well as the National ATM Council, a trade
group for those owners and operators.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to
requests for comment.
Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton and MasterCard
spokesman James Issokson said their companies are pleased with
the decision. Visa spokesman Will Valentine, JPMorgan spokesman
Thomas Kelly and Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez declined
Visa and MasterCard are the world's largest payment
networks. JPMorgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are the
largest, second-largest and fourth-largest U.S. banks by assets.
In September, financial research firm Bankrate.com said the
cost of using out-of-network ATMs rose 4 percent in the prior
year to a record $2.50. It also said people who use such ATMs
paid their own banks an average $1.57 fee, up 11 percent.
CEILING, OR FLOOR
The lawsuits filed in October 2011 accused Visa and
MasterCard of setting rules that barred ATM operators from
offering lower prices on independent PIN debit card networks
that were not affiliated with either company.
These networks comprise 200,000 ATMs nationwide, many of
which are found in such places as convenience stores and gas
stations, court papers show.
The plaintiffs said the alleged illegal agreements required
operators of ATMs that accepted Visa- or MasterCard-branded
cards to charge consumers no more for using those cards than
they charged consumers who transact on other ATM networks.
Visa and MasterCard said this helped consumers by setting a
ceiling on ATM access fees. The plaintiffs countered it
established a floor beneath which fees for transactions
processed on other networks could not be discounted.
In finding no conspiracy among Visa, MasterCard and the
banks to restrain trade, Jackson said that "at most, plaintiffs
allege that ATM operators - both banks and independent operators
- make independent business decisions whether to participate in
the Visa and MasterCard networks."
The cases, all in the U.S. District Court, District of
Columbia, are National ATM Council Inc et al v. Visa Inc et al,
No. 11-01803; Mackmin et al v. Visa Inc et al, No. 11-01831; and
Stoumbos v. Visa Inc et al, No. 11-01882.