Moving carriers settle fuel surcharge antitrust claims

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Case in Point

March 1, 2011

Moving carriers settle fuel surcharge antitrust claims 

Consumers alleged that several carriers were liable under the Sherman Act for conspiring with other members of their trade group to calculate the fuel surcharge as a percentage of the entire transportation charge, artificially inflating the prices consumers paid to have their goods transported. The parties settled for $40 million plus interest. In re: Household Goods Movers Antitrust Litig.

Under federal law, moving and storage carriers like Atlas Van Lines, Inc., and Allied Van Lines, Inc., are required to submit tariffs listing the rates for their services to the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The transportation charge includes fuel costs, but the companies may seek approval to apply a fuel surcharge to recover increases in fuel prices.

Atlas, Allied, and several other moving companies submitted a fuel surcharge tariff to STB that represented that they would adjust their rates by adding the amount of increased fuel costs to the total bill. Instead, they conspired with other members of the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), a trade group to which they belonged, to calculate the fuel surcharge as a percentage of the entire transportation charge. This resulted in a surcharge that was often greater than the entire cost of fuel already included in the transportation charge.

The agreement and lack of competition among AMSA members artificially inflated the prices consumers paid to have their household goods transported, and the companies allegedly earned hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they would have without the calculation.

Consumers complained to the STB, which concluded that computing fuel surcharges as a percentage of base rates was unreasonable.

Seven consumers filed a class action against Atlas, Allied, and five other carriers—which together made up 85 percent of the industry—as well as the AMSA, alleging antitrust violations under the Sherman Act.

The parties settled for $40 million plus interest, including up to $1,000 to each class representative.

The court has granted preliminary approval. A hearing on final approval is scheduled for March 1.

Citation: In re: Household Goods Movers Antitrust Litig., No. 2:07-cv-00764 (D.S.C. Nov. 23, 2010).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Mark C. Tanenbaum, and John P. Algar, both of Charleston, South Carolina; AAJ members A. Hoyt Rowell, Robert S. Wood, and T. Christopher Tuck, and Dan O. Myers, all of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.


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