WASHINGTON – A federal district judge in Maryland dismissed antitrust and other claims made against a financial services company by a group of car dealerships, saying the dealers failed to show they were victims of a “group boycott.”
In dismissing the case against Centrix Financial, U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus said Tuesday the dealerships’ suit was full of “confusing, overlapping and frequently inconsistent allegations . . . that make the task of the court much more difficult.”
But he gave the plaintiffs, eight dealerships led by Southern Volkswagen of Waldorf, 30 days to amend their case and try again.
Calls to Southern Volkswagen and its attorney were not returned Wednesday. But Centrix’s attorney said he was “very pleased with the court’s decision.”
“I think the court made it clear that the case filed by the plaintiffs was not a strong one,” Jeffrey Jacobovitz said Wednesday.
Titus’ ruling said eight dealerships filed the suit but only three were explicitly named in court papers: Southern, Kentland Motors Inc. of Darnestown and Woodbridge Cars of Woodbridge, Va.
The five other plaintiffs were limited liability companies each called “Guscor,” numbered one through five. Company filings said each was created to do business in the car industry, and four of those companies share an address with Southern Volkswagen while the other shares an address with dealerships in Hagerstown.
A Guscor agent did not return a call to comment on the case Wednesday.
The dealerships had sued Centrix — a firm that works with financial institutions to provide auto loans to people with poor credit — for antitrust violations, unfair competition, defamation, invasion of privacy, interference with business relations and conspiracy to restrain trade.
They claimed that Centrix refused to do business with them, but entered into a business relationship with the dealerships’ competitors.
The plaintiffs’ suit claims that one of those competitors told Centrix that Southern was “being investigated for fraud crimes,” and that as a result Centrix had entered into an agreement with the competitors not to do business with Southern and the others.
Titus broke the allegations into two general categories — the defamation and invasion of privacy claims, and the claims dependent on a finding of anti-trust violations — and proceed to find fault with virtually all of the plaintiffs’ assertions.
Titus said the defamation charges as filed did not include enough specifics to proceed. And while the defamation allegations might be proved if refiled, he expressed skepticism that the dealerships can show damages in excess of $75,000, the jurisdictional limit for the court.
He also dismissed the antitrust violations, saying he could not find wide agreement between Centrix and many of the dealerships’ competitors that would have amounted to what the plaintiffs claimed was a “group-boycott.”
Because the rest of the counts were partly or wholly dependent on the antitrust violations, they were therefore dismissed as well.
While he said the dealerships could refile their claims, Titus took pains to remind their lawyer to follow established procedure, setting out specific directions and requirements in any repleading.
“The court’s decision . . . essentially warned the plaintiffs about the potential consequences of refiling,” Jacobovitz said.
-30- CNS 02-16-05