Judge Revives Debit Card Antitrust Case Against Visa

A US appeals court revived an antitrust case against Visa Inc on Tuesday over debit card services, while also reassiging the dispute to a different Texas federal court, after criticizing the slow pace of litigation and questioning whether the trial judge was biased against the plaintiff.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans ruled unanimously 3-0 for plaintiff Pulse Network LLC, a subsidiary of Discover Financial Services, which sued Visa in 2014 over claims it was using its dominance to reduce competition in the market for debit card services.

Pulse’s case “languished for four years” before US District Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston, 5th Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel, including Circuit Judges Jerry Smith and Don Willett. Duncan said Hughes “repeatedly stymied Pulse’s legitimate requests to engage in critical discovery.”

The appeals court reversed a ruling from Hughes that ended the case, now giving Pulse a new chance to argue to a jury that Visa has taken steps to squeeze its competitor in the multibillion-dollar debit network market. Visa has denied the allegations. The appeals panel said a jury could “conclude from the record that Visa’s policies deprived Pulse of the opportunity to compete for business from at least one major merchant.”

A lawyer for Visa, Allyson Ho of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Tuesday. A representative from Visa did not immediately return a similar request, and neither did Pulse’s lawyer, Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis.

Hughes, who declined to comment, has served on the bench since 1985 and faced criticism over statements he made in other cases. The appeals court has reassigned at least five other cases that Hughes oversaw.

Want more news? Subscribe to CPI’s free daily newsletter for more headlines and updates on antitrust developments around the world.