US: Swisher wins reversal of $44.4M verdict in federal antitrust case

A federal judge has reversed a $44.4 million verdict against Jacksonville’s Swisher International, but the case will continue to an appellate court.

The company has operated in Jacksonville since 1924, and its cigar factory on 16th Street is considered the largest in the world, producing 1.6 billion cigars a year.

In April, a California jury found Swisher liable for breach of contract and violation of federal antitrust laws concerning its actions with Trendsettah, a small cigar company. It awarded Trendsettah $14.8 million, which is tripled under federal antitrust laws.

Earlier this month, Judge James V. Selna of the US District Court for the Central District of California overturned that award. But a breach of contract judgment for about $9 million is still in place.

The case now continues onto the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The two companies entered into a contract in 2011 under which Swisher would supply Trendsettah with cigarellos that would be sold under the name Splitarillo. Trendsettah claimed that the Splitarillo was identical to Swisher’s own Swisher Sweet, which Swisher denied. But Trendsettah used different packaging and sold them for less than Swisher sold its Swisher Sweets.

Splitarillos sold well enough to take part of Swisher’s market share, said Mark Poe, the San Francisco attorney representing Trendsettah. Swisher, he said, responded by limiting the number of Splitarillos it supplied to Trendsettah.cigars during those three years, but that was 200 million fewer than it needed.

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