A London judge rejected an application by a group representing 46 million consumers to pursue a lawsuit against Mastercard Inc. that would have been the largest of its kind since U.S.-style class actions were introduced in the U.K.
The 14 billion-pound ($18 billion) lawsuit initiated by Walter Merricks, a lawyer who once led the U.K. organization that handles consumer disputes with banks, and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, came three years after a European Union court ruled the processing fees the company had charged for cross-border transactions were unfair.
Judge Peter Roth’s latest ruling could limit Britain as a destination for consumer class-action lawsuits, an opportunity that opened up with a 2015 law change. Earlier this year, the same judge demanded more economic data from a group of consumers pursuing a claim against an American manufacturer. The rulings are part of the court trying to set limits on claims, lawyers said.
"This is a real setback for the collective proceedings regime," said Marc Israel, a partner at White & Case. This is the second case that has failed and "it may well deter other potential class representatives from seeking to act on behalf of potential claimants and incurring the time and expense in seeking to become a representative in such cases."
Roth said Friday that the tribunal had “unanimously concluded claims are not suitable therefore the eligibility requirement is not satisfied.”
In a March ruling in the other case, Roth instructed a group seeking to bring a case against a U.S. mobility scooter manufacturer to show how they were hurt monetarily in a set back for the U.K.’s first antitrust class action.
“The mobility scooters case ended up being modest to the point it became uneconomic,” Elaine Whiteford, partner in Covington’s Competition and Dispute Resolution team, said by phone. “If you look at Mastercard, it’s the other extreme — a very ambitious claim — you have two extremes and maybe it’s not that surprising that neither of them have progressed.”
A spokesman for Quinn Emmanuel said the firm was considering an appeal, because lawyers were “not convinced by the judgment of the reasoning.”
Mastercard has faced numerous lawsuits since EU courts said its cross-border payment fees unfairly restricted competition. The firm said that a cap imposed by the European Commission on what it charged retailers to process transactions on foreign transactions would shift the burden onto customers, an argument the Court of Justice rejected and opened the door to collective lawsuits from consumers.
Mastercard said “the claims were completely unsuitable to be brought under the collective actions regime,” and welcomed the judge’s decision.