No Conspiracy Against Discount Firm

Hackman v. Dickerson, REALTORS®, Inc. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

January 1, 2011

A group of brokerages didn’t conspire to harm a discount brokerage in their market area, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled, dismissing a long-running antitrust lawsuit against the brokerages.

The discount brokerage opened in 2000 and, according to its broker, faced retaliation by five competing brokerages who refused to show its listings and made disparaging comments about the business. The broker filed suit, alleging antitrust violations, defamation, and tortious interference with a contract.

The court said there was no evidence to support federal antitrust violations. The discount broker failed to show that the defendants intended to monopolize, or had a substantial effect on, interstate commerce, or that they had attempted to restrain trade.

There was, however, evidence of ill feelings toward the discount brokerage, including an announced four-day boycott by a competitor, but that was a policy announced by one person in the firm and it was quickly put to a stop by senior management.

The court also found that one MLS member sent the discount broker a letter stating that the broker would receive a smaller commission split from a transaction, but the letter was never enforced and the smaller split would have been permitted under MLS rules.

On the defamation charge, the court couldn’t substantiate two statements and a third statement was actually an ethics complaint filed in good faith against the broker. On the tortious interference allegation, there was no evidence that the broker lost any clients, so there was no harm caused even if the allegations were true.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.