The judge in the PoolCorp anti-trust lawsuit has issued a summary judgment removing horizontal conspiracy from the claims made in the class action.
The trial will move forward, with the remaining claims being heard. PoolCorp faces the case on its own after fellow defendants Pentair Aquatic Systems, Hayward Pool Products and Zodiac Pool Systems settled. The “Big 3” producers were brought into the lawsuit at a later stage, accused of cooperating with the mega distributor.
Eleven dealers and consumers accuse the company of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits activities restraining trade or commerce. They claim Covington, La.-based PoolCorp used its Preferred Vendor program to discourage manufacturers from selling to competing distributors. The plaintiffs said manufacturers often felt pressured to agree because they needed PoolCorp’s business. They also said the distributor bought competing companies solely to close them. Through these alleged actions, the plaintiffs charged, PoolCorp removed enough competition to artificially raise prices.
PoolCorp filed for summary judgment on the conspiracy claim, stating that the plaintiffs did not provide sufficient evidence to move forward. They had accused PoolCorp and the Big 3 of illegally conspiring to raise the amount of purchase needed to earn free freight from $10,000 to $20,000. This, the plaintiffs said, was meant to place buying groups at a disadvantage.
The judge agreed with PoolCorp: “[The] circumstantial evidence does not tend to exclude the possibility that the manufacturer defendants independently raised their free freight minimums,” said Judge Sarah S. Vance of the U.S. District Court, Eastern district of Louisiana.