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Appeal of $7.2 billion card-fee settlement deferred

A credit card user displays her cards in Washington February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A credit card user displays her cards in Washington February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Erin Geiger Smith

(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court refused to hear an expedited appeal of the preliminary approval of a $7.2 billion settlement between Visa Inc, Mastercard Inc. and merchants over credit card fees.

In a brief order, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York denied one objecting merchant, The Home Depot's, request for expedited arguments and a decision on its appeal.

The court also said all other objecting parties' briefs on their appeals should not be filed until after the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has issued final approval of the settlement. A hearing on final approval is expected to be scheduled for sometime next year.

The deal, which received preliminary approval last month, would be the largest federal antitrust settlement in U.S. history, offering nearly 8 million merchants $7.2 billion in cash and temporary reductions in the interchange, or swipe fees, they pay to process credit and debit transactions.

Many of the merchants supported the deal, but dozens of retailers and trade groups that brought the proposed class action, including The Home Depot, objected to a portion of the settlement that would release Visa and Mastercard from new legal claims over related interchange issues

Hundreds of merchants, including the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, also have objected to the proposed settlement, claiming it offers meaningless relief for merchants saddled with an estimated $30 billion in annual swipe fees.

Home Depot did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jeff Shindler, a lawyer who represents a group of plaintiffs objecting to the settlement, said his clients remain confident in their position and will continue to "press that position at every turn going forward."

However, Craig Wildfang, co-lead counsel for the merchants who support the deal, welcomed the court's decision.

"We're happy that the 2nd Circuit has agreed with us that there's no imminent harm to anyone from preliminary approval and that is letting the approval process play out," he said. Plaintiffs supporting the settlement include Payless ShoeSource.

Trisha Wexler, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Payments Coalition, an industry group that represents Visa and Mastercard, said the group expected the settlement to now move forward as planned.

(Reporting By Erin Geiger Smith; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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