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(Reuters) – The District of Columbia attorney general on Monday urged a Washington, D.C., appeals court to revive the city’s claim that Amazon.com Inc is violating antitrust law through agreements prohibiting merchants from offering better price deals elsewhere.
Lawyers for D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb argued in their opening court filing at the District of Columbia Court of Appeals that a trial judge in May “ignored or discounted” the city’s factual allegations and “perfunctorily dismissed” the lawsuit in an oral ruling from the bench.
D.C.’s lawyers said the lower court “appeared to reason” that an agreement to restrain trade can’t violate antitrust law if it economically benefited the parties.
“That is not the law,” the attorney general’s team told the appeals court, the highest local tribunal in the city.
The district also argued that Superior Court Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo should have allowed the city to file an amended complaint to include more details about specific sellers and how Amazon’s agreements allegedly pushed them to raise prices.
A lawyer for Amazon at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison deferred comment to Amazon. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the D.C. attorney general’s office also declined to comment.
Schwalb, a former Venable partner, was elected last November as a Democrat to succeed fellow Democrat Karl Racine, who originally filed the lawsuit in May 2021 against Amazon. Racine recently joined law firm Hogan Lovells.
Amazon faces similar claims challenging its seller agreements in Seattle federal court. A U.S. judge last year denied Amazon’s early bid to end private consumer litigation.
Amazon argued in a bid to dismiss D.C.’s lawsuit that “the District’s complaint seeks to argue that Amazon’s practice of encouraging low prices at its stores is somehow anticompetitive.”
Puig-Lugo in an August written decision challenged the city’s assertion that Amazon’s prices were anticompetitive, and he declined to reconsider his earlier oral order from the bench dismissing the case.
“It is equally likely the prices are the result of lawful, unchoreographed free-market behavior,” Puig-Lugo wrote. He added, “Simply put, the District’s repeated assertion of probable facts does not turn them into plausible propositions” for the purpose of meeting thresholds for filing claims in lawsuits.
Amazon’s appeals court brief is due in April. The court has not yet scheduled any hearing.
The case is District of Columbia v Amazon.Com Inc, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, No. 22-CV-657.
For D.C.: Caroline Van Zile, Graham Phillips and Jeremy Girton of the D.C. attorney general’s office
For Amazon: Karen Dunn, William Isaacson and Amy Mauser of Paul Weiss
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