Judge Dismisses Hall Case Against Airlines

Kevin Brass A federal judge today dismissed travel agent Sarah Hall’s class-action lawsuit against the major airlines, shocking agents’ attorneys who thought the antitrust case was ready to move forward. The decision came just a month after Judge W. Earl Britt approved the first settlement in the suit,

By: Kevin Brass

A federal judge today dismissed travel agent Sarah Hall’s class-action lawsuit against the major airlines, shocking agents’ attorneys who thought the antitrust case was ready to move forward.

The decision came just a month after Judge W. Earl Britt approved the first settlement in the suit, an agreement that called for Lufthansa to establish a “bonus program” for agents.

“The court is not convinced that (plaintiffs) presented evidence to support an inference of concerted action” to reduce commissions on the part of the carriers, Britt wrote in granting the airlines’ request for summary judgment.

Britt’s harshly worded opinion said attorneys for agents had not provided evidence that the airlines’ drop in commissions wasn’t the result of “competitive conduct and natural changes in the market.”

“I’m very disappointed,” said Daniel Shulman, one of the co-counsels representing Hall. “I think he was way off base and I think he ignored our evidence.”

Shulman said the decision would be appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

At the recent ASTA convention in Miami, Hall attorney Andy Anderson said meetings of Passenger Tariff Coordinating Conferences and International Air Transport Association (IATA) constituted a “smoking gun” in the case.

But Britt labeled that argument as “ludicrous.”

Britt addressed the cases against each carrier individually, in each instance deriding the agents’ arguments.

For example, “Plaintiffs have shown no evidence of knowledge of or participation in any illegal scheme by Alaska whatsoever,” Britt wrote (italics his).

Evidence against Air France “essentially amounts to sinister insinuations and untenable inferences that shatter in sheer speculation,” he wrote.

Britt concluded that it is “perfectly legitimate for an airline to consider publicly available information about what a competitor is paying travel agents in setting one’s own commissions.”

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