WASHINGTON — The National Retail Federation may go to court to block the proposed $7.25 billion settlement of a federal antitrust lawsuit over swipe fees charged by banks and credit card companies.
The association said this month that its board had authorized court action if needed and that it is now exploring its options.
The NRF’s decision to possibly take the matter to court stems from an agreement reached in July in which Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc. and major banks proposed the $7.25 billion payment to settle a seven-year-old federal antitrust lawsuit brought by retailers. Under the tentative agreement Visa and MasterCard agreed to pay $6 billion and temporarily reduce swipe fees, also known as interchange fees, to save stores about $1.2 billion over an eight-month period.
The NRF, which was not a party to that suit, opposed the settlement because it does nothing to prevent future fee increases, and because such a settlement could prevent future legal challenges.
“The proposal is a lose-lose-lose for merchants, consumers and competition,” NRF president Matthew Shay says. “The NRF will take any and all steps necessary to oppose the settlement as it is currently proposed and will work toward real reform of the swipe fee system.”
Shay says that, despite being the largest settlement in U.S. history, the proposed payment is far lower than the “hundreds of billions” the credit card companies and banks could have been required to pay if the lawsuit had gone to trial.
NRF is not alone in its opposition to the proposed settlement: The agreement has also received a frosty reception from other retail trade associations and such retailers as Walmart and Target Corp.
At a hearing in federal court in New York this month attorneys for the retailers who have agreed to the arrangement said they remain on target to file for preliminary approval of the accord by October 12. They say they are unconcerned by the NRF’s opposition, noting that it will be up to the judge to approve the settlement.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Payments Coalition, which favors the settlement, contends that the NRF and other groups have “political ulterior motives” for opposing the deal. Their opposition, she said, is an attempt to wrangle more concessions on swipe fees, both in the courtroom and before Congress.
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