March 26, 2015 / 10:16 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. aluminum price-fixing lawsuit can go forward-judge

(New throughout, adds details from decision, comments; adds byline)

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, March 26 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday refused to dismiss antitrust litigation accusing a variety of Wall Street banks and commodity merchants of conspiring to drive up aluminum prices by reducing supply.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan said metals purchasers may pursue claims against affiliates of Goldman Sachs Group Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co and mining company Glencore Plc, and well as aluminum warehouse operators such as Metro International, Henry Bath and Pacorini Metals USA.

Purchasers had accused the defendants of colluding since 2009 to raise banks’ trading profits and warehouse companies’ revenues, causing an increase in Platts Midwest Premium, a component used in setting aluminum prices.

They said the collusion led to higher storage costs, delays of up to 16 months to fill orders, and increases in the prices of industrial products such as soft drink cans and airplanes.

In her 62-page decision, Forrest said aluminum purchasers portrayed “a web of alleged agreements or understandings” to drive prices higher, though they did not always do “the world’s greatest job” explaining how the conspiracy worked.

Without ruling on the merits, Forrest said that by having “sharpened their story,” the purchasers may now pursue a claim that the defendants violated the Sherman Act, a major federal antitrust law.

“The conspiracy here is certainly not of the type which the antitrust laws have routinely dealt with,” Forrest wrote. “That alone is not, however, fatal at the pleading stage.”

Forrest allowed two types of plaintiffs to pursue claims: “first-level” purchasers that buy aluminum for such things as beverages and cabinets, and whose contract prices reflected storage costs; and Eastman Kodak Co, flashlight maker Mag Instrument Inc, and lithographic plate maker Agfa Corp.

The judge previously dismissed several non-U.S. defendants because she lacked jurisdiction, as well as parent companies of defendants alleged to be more directly involved in price-fixing.

In Thursday’s decision, she also dismissed another federal antitrust claim, and many but not all state law claims.

Goldman declined to comment. Other defendants or their lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

Walter Noss, a lawyer for some purchasers, in an email called Forrest’s “through and well-reasoned” decision “an important step towards obtaining relief.”

Last year, Goldman agreed to sell Metro to Switzerland’s Reuben Brothers, and JPMorgan agreed to sell Henry Bath to Switzerland’s Mercuria Energy Group Ltd.

U.S. and European regulators have also examined alleged metals price fixing.

The case is In re: Aluminum Warehousing Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-md-02481. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

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