Sunday, October 2, 2022

Court: Allows some rail rate talks in price-fixing cases

OMAHA, Neb. ( Associated Press) — Some details of rate negotiations between the nation’s four largest railroads will now be included in lawsuits challenging the billion-dollar charges levied by railroads, but a federal appeals court’s mixed ruling this week will also be taken out. some documents.

Decision of DC Circuit Court of Appeals likely to establish more logic on evidence Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern and CSX Railroads defended themselves against dozens of lawsuits accusing them of conspiring to raise their rates with coordinated fuel surcharges between 2003 and 2007.

The key to determining what evidence is admissible will be whether the conversation pertains to shipments crossing multiple railroads. The court said it “disregards logic” to exclude discussion about traffic that resides on the same railroad or talks about all shipments, but federal law coordinates railroads regarding shared shipments. allows to do.

These pricing charges have been creeping through the courts since 2007. The cases used to be part of a class-action lawsuit involving more than 16,000 shippers across various industries, but in 2019 the companies were forced to file their own lawsuit after an appellate court rejected that group’s view .

Stephen Neuwirth, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said the ruling should help the major companies that filed lawsuits — including food producer Campbell Soup, major utility Dominion Energy and carmaker Hyundai — show that the railroad has all There was talk of imposing a fuel surcharge to generate traffic. Benefit.

“The court’s decision will help ensure that a jury can see evidence of defendants’ complicity, and that railroads are not effectively immune to antitrust laws,” Neuwirth said.

But the railroad praised Wednesday’s decision as it said talks about the shipments they share could be kept out of lawsuits.

“We are grateful to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for recognizing Congress’s intent to prevent normal interline communications from unlawful conspiracy detection,” Union Pacific spokeswoman Robin Tysver said in a statement.

Other major freight railroads did not immediately comment on the decision. In the lawsuits, they have argued that their fuel surcharges were legal and that their intention was to recover the skyrocketing fuel costs at the time they were levied. Similar fees are common in the transportation industry.

The law that lets freight railroads work together to handle shipments destined for each other as they cross the country is part of Congressional decisions when they regulated railroads in 1980. Even though federal law encourages competition between railroads, they are allowed to coordinate the shipments they share to ensure the continuity of the nation’s rail network.

The four major railroads handle the majority of the millions of shipments, with Omaha, Nebraska-based Union Pacific and Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF operating in the western United States, while Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX and Atlanta-based Norfolk freight in the southeast. competes for shipping.

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