NEW YORK — Now it is just Visa USA defending itself against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and more than 5 million other retail merchants.
That’s because MasterCard International at the last minute settled a lawsuit with Wal-Mart and the other retailers and retail trade groups in a multibillion-dollar class action in Brooklyn federal court. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but it is expected that in addition to a monetary payment, MasterCard likely will lower certain processing fees.
Prior to the MasterCard settlement, estimates of potential damages in the case ranged from $39 billion to $100 billion.
Announcement of the settlement was made Monday morning by U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson moments before he was set to begin the jury selection process. The settlement left just Visa as the sole defendant in the case. The parties in the case were ordered by Gleeson not to make public statements about the settlement because he didn’t want the jury pool tainted by what they might hear or read.
One of the charges against the two card associations was the allegation that they tried to monopolize the market for debit cards by requiring acceptance by stores under their "honor all cards" rule. In addition, the retailers assailed as unfair the fees for which they were charged including online debit transactions involving personal identification numbers and signature-based offline debit transactions.
Earlier this month, Gleeson denied MasterCard’s request for a separate trial from Visa. While the two card associations together corner about 80 percent of the credit card business, Visa holds a much tighter grip on the market.
In his written opinion earlier this month, Gleeson noted that Visa’s share of the general purpose credit and charge card market fluctuated between 43 and 47 percent from 1991 to 1998, with its share of the credit card market alone at nearly 60 percent.
In contrast, MasterCard’s share of the credit and charge card services market has fluctuated from between 26 and 28 percent over the same period. Its share of the credit card market alone has varied from 33 to 36 percent.
Much of Gleeson’s ruling earlier this month is consistent with similar findings by a Manhattan federal court judge in a separate antitrust lawsuit filed in 2001 by the U.S. Justice Department against the two credit card firms. That case is under appeal, with oral arguments before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan set for May 8.With Visa left as the sole defendant in a case where damages could run into the billions and then treble under federal law, MasterCard’s settlement could spur Visa to think along the same lines. Settlement negotiations were ongoing in the days leading up to the trial and were intensified going into the weekend, a source said. Opening statements, which were to begin Monday afternoon, will take place Wednesday morning. The delay was at Visa’s request.
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