Antitrust Claim Against NAR Dismissed

July 9, 2015

A federal judge in Maryland dismissed an antitrust case against the National Association of REALTORS®, handing the real estate industry an important win in its effort to protect listing data from unauthorized use.

The decision is the last in a series of cases that stem from a website company’s use of MLS data without authorization. The company, American Home Realty Network (AHRN), operates NeighborCity.com, a listing and agent-referral website. Three years ago St. Paul, Minnesota-based Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota, Inc. (NorthstarMLS)and Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), in the Washington, D.C., metro area, each charged the company in separate lawsuits with copyright infringement for its unauthorized use of their listing data. In 2013, Preferred Carolinas, Inc., a real estate brokerage based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina also sued the company for copyright infringement.

AHRN filed countersuits in the MLS cases, claiming antitrust violations by NorthstarMLS and some of its participants in the Minnesota lawsuit and by MRIS and NAR in the Maryland lawsuit. It alleged, among other things, that NAR orchestrated a group boycott of AHRN, the operator of Neighborcity.com, by encouraging that MLSs and members not to engage in business with the company.

The copyright infringement suits against the company were resolved in favor of the MLSs last year. In the antitrust countersuits, NorthstarMLS won summary judgment against the company and the countersuit against MRIS was dismissed. In yesterday's decision, the last remaining countersuit, the court granted summary judgment in favor of NAR.

Judge Deborah Chasanow of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland said the company failed to offer sufficient evidence to warrant a trial on its antitrust claim against NAR.  

In the ruling, the judge said there was nothing unlawful about NAR supporting and sharing information with the MLSs who were considering legal action against the company. Nor was sufficient evidence presented to infer that the MLSs and NAR engaged in concerted action by discouraging MLSs and members from dealing with Neighborcity.com.  The court instead noted that those entities were likely motivated by their desire not to associate with a company believed to be engaging in copyright infringement and whose business model was unappealing.

—Robert Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine