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U.S. Judge Dismisses ATM Fee Collusion Lawsuits

A federal judge has dismissed antitrust lawsuits accusing Visa Inc, MasterCard Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp and Wells Fargo & Co of conspiring to fix automated teller machine fees.

A federal judge has dismissed antitrust lawsuits accusing Visa Inc, MasterCard Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp and Wells Fargo & Co of conspiring to fix automated teller machine fees.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., said that, while the three lawsuits "bristle with indignation," the plaintiffs failed to show they were injured, or that there was a conspiracy to charge excessive or artificially high fees.

"Notwithstanding plaintiffs' adamant insistence that consumers are being overcharged, the court simply could not find facts to support that contention," Jackson wrote.

The plaintiffs included several individual consumers, 13 owners and operators of independent non-bank ATMs that compete with bank ATMs, as well as the National ATM Council, a trade group for those owners and operators.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton and MasterCard spokesman James Issokson said their companies are pleased with the decision. Visa spokesman Will Valentine, JPMorgan spokesman Thomas Kelly and Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez declined to comment.

Visa and MasterCard are the world's largest payment networks. JPMorgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are the largest, second-largest and fourth-largest U.S. banks by assets.

In September, financial research firm Bankrate.com said the cost of using out-of-network ATMs rose 4 percent in the prior year to a record $2.50. It also said people who use such ATMs paid their own banks an average $1.57 fee, up 11 percent.

CEILING, OR FLOOR

The lawsuits filed in October 2011 accused Visa and MasterCard of setting rules that barred ATM operators from offering lower prices on independent PIN debit card networks that were not affiliated with either company.

These networks comprise 200,000 ATMs nationwide, many of which are found in such places as convenience stores and gas stations, court papers show.

The plaintiffs said the alleged illegal agreements required operators of ATMs that accepted Visa- or MasterCard-branded cards to charge consumers no more for using those cards than they charged consumers who transact on other ATM networks.

Visa and MasterCard said this helped consumers by setting a ceiling on ATM access fees. The plaintiffs countered it established a floor beneath which fees for transactions processed on other networks could not be discounted.

In finding no conspiracy among Visa, MasterCard and the banks to restrain trade, Jackson said that "at most, plaintiffs allege that ATM operators - both banks and independent operators - make independent business decisions whether to participate in the Visa and MasterCard networks."

The cases, all in the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, are National ATM Council Inc et al v. Visa Inc et al, No. 11-01803; Mackmin et al v. Visa Inc et al, No. 11-01831; and Stoumbos v. Visa Inc et al, No. 11-01882.

Copyright 2013 by Reuters. All rights reserved.

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