Judge may issue gag order for interchange settlement opponents

A federal judge will hear arguments next Thursday (April 11) to decide whether some retailers can continue to blast away at the proposed class-action interchange settlement, according to Andrew R. Johnson in the Wall Street Journal.

Lawyers officially representing the class of merchants who have accepted Visa (NYSE:V) and MasterCard (NYSE:MA) payments since 2004 — in other words, virtually all retailers — complained to U.S. District Judge John Gleeson that trade groups opposed to the settlement's terms have set up websites encouraging merchants to opt out of the settlement.

"These unauthorized and misleading communications from the trade association plaintiffs pose a real threat of confusing class members and undermining the court-approved notice processes," the attorneys alleged in a filing last Friday (March 29).

On Monday (April 1), Judge Gleeson ordered the groups to show why they shouldn't have to change the websites and send corrective information to every class member who opted out of the settlement "based on the false or misleading information."

The trade groups, including the National Association of Convenience Stores and the National Grocers Association, say that sites such as merchantsobject.com are not misleading. Others objecting to the settlement include Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Target (NYSE:TGT) and Home Depot (NYSE:HD).

"Proponents of the settlement are afraid of allowing contrary views to be disseminated to the class," said Jeff Shinder, a lawyer for the trade groups. "They are attempting to impose some form of regulation on the ability of the objecting plaintiffs to communicate with their members, and that raises First Amendment issues."

Judge Gleeson gave the settlement preliminary approval in November, but only after most of the original plaintiffs decided not to sign on to the settlement. A hearing to decide whether the settlement will get final approval will be on Sept. 12.

For more:

- See this WSJ story
- See this CSPnet story

Related stories:

ATM signs come down, just as POS swipe-fee signs go up
Interchange Settlement Not Done, But Clock Is Ticking Anyway For Retailer Surcharges
The Interchange Settlement: Cards Won