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Tuesday, 17 May 2016 19:35

Florida Judge Dismisses “Price Fixing Claims” in Multi-District Lawsuits

A Florida judge ruled in May that the price fixing claims brought forward in the multi-district lawsuit were not enough to reconsider the antitrust claims, which were dismissed earlier this year. The new evidence was presented to Judge Gregory Presnell in March by Eaves Law Firm of Jackson, Mississippi on behalf of five states: Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Utah.

Earlier this year, Presnell dismissed the plaintiff’s antitrust claims with prejudice (meaning that the claims cannot be refiled). Following this decision, Eaves Law firm submitted new evidence to the Florida courts asking Judge Presnell to reconsider the dismissal of the antitrust complaints.

Allison Fry, of Eaves Law Firm, said there are limited grounds in which a court can reconsider an order, including the availability of new evidence.

According to Judge Presnell, the plaintiffs made no such showing that the evidence was previously unavailable.

“Where a party attempts to introduce previously unsubmitted evidence in support of a motion to reconsider, the party must make some showing that the evidence previously was unavailable,” Presnell wrote in court documents. “The closest they come is a statement that the new evidence was unavailable at the time their Second Amended Complaint was filed. However, the Second Amended Complaint was filed on March 21, 2015, while the Order was not entered until nearly a year later—on February 22, 2016. The Plaintiffs offer no explanation for their failure to bring this information before the Court during that time.”

He continued that, “Even if they had provided a legitimate justification for their delay in raising it, the Plaintiffs’ ‘direct evidence of price fixing’ would not suffice to save their antitrust claims, which were dismissed due to a failure to properly allege the existence of a collusive agreement to fix prices.”

Presnell said that the statements provided did not identify any defendants that allegedly participated in the agreement to fix prices and said, “These vague assertations do not add any weight to the Plaintiffs’ existing allegations.”

The following statements he was referring to were submitted to the courts by Eaves Law Firm: “Plaintiffs obtained a statement from a Progressive employee who stated unequivocally that body shops have no say in the setting of their own labor rates, that the insurance companies ‘get together at big meetings’ to set body shop labor rates, and that the insurance companies uniformly apply the labor rates agreed upon at these meetings. This representative even identified when the next such meeting was going to occur.

“Plaintiffs additionally obtained a statement from a State Farm representative who stated State Farm intentionally suppresses and fixes body shop labor rates, and that State Farm’s labor rate survey is a sham to justify its intentional fixing of labor rates.”

The anti-trust lawsuit was first filed in Mississippi by 20 auto repair shops in February 2014 against 39 insurance companies. Eaves Law Firm subsequently filed more than 20 others. The lawsuits were eventually consolidated for pretrial purposes and the law firm now represents 500 shops across the country.

In the lawsuits that have been filed, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants, “engaged in an ongoing, concerted and combined intentional course of action and conduct to improperly and illegally control and depress automobile damage repair costs to the detriment of the plaintiffs and the substantial profit of the Defendants.”

The plaintiffs also claim that the defendants engaged in price fixing, compulsory use of substandard parts and boycotting shops that refuse to comply.

Autobody News will continue to keep readers informed about this lawsuit.

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