BOTH SIDES ASK JUDGE TO RULE IN DEBIT-CARD CASE

NEW YORK -- Counsel for the 4 million U.S. merchants pursuing a class-action lawsuit alleging anti-trust violations by the nation's two largest credit-card companies earlier this month presented arguments for summary judgment in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.At the same court session, attorneys for MasterCard International, Purchase, N.Y., and Visa U.S.A., Foster City, Calif., asked Judge John Gleeson

NEW YORK -- Counsel for the 4 million U.S. merchants pursuing a class-action lawsuit alleging anti-trust violations by the nation's two largest credit-card companies earlier this month presented arguments for summary judgment in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

At the same court session, attorneys for MasterCard International, Purchase, N.Y., and Visa U.S.A., Foster City, Calif., asked Judge John Gleeson to dismiss the case against the two companies.

As of the middle of last week, Gleeson had not ruled on the motions for summary judgment and dismissal. A trial is scheduled to begin here April 28.

The merchants' charge the credit companies violated anti-trust laws by working together to force store operators to accept off-line debit-card transactions, which are more expensive for both retail and consumers than on-line debit-card or credit-card transactions, according to the merchants.

The merchants' case was originally filed in 1996 by 18 retailers -- including Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., and Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif. -- and three trade associations -- including Food Marketing Institute, Washington -- and has since been expanded to include approximately 4 million U.S. merchants.

Lawyers for both the merchants and credit-card companies said they presented new evidence at the court session.

Lloyd Constantine, lead counsel for the merchants and principle, Constantine & Partners, said, "We presented evidence clearly showing the existence and effect of Visa and MasterCard's conspiracy, exclusionary conduct and attempts to raise prices and monopolize the debit-card market.

"The only substantial dispute now is what relief the court is likely to ultimately award against Visa and MasterCard."

Noah Hanft, MasterCard's general counsel, said, "For the first time since the lawsuit was filed in 1996, we were able to argue key substantive issues demonstrating that MasterCard's rules are pro-competitive and protect consumer's freedom of choice.

"We presented strong evidence that the plaintiffs' claim that MasterCard and Visa have conspired to monopolize the so-called debit market can be supported by fact, law or the realities of today's market."