Over the last few months, a legal battle has been raging between merchant groups and the credit card companies. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson issued a preliminary statement saying that the case may soon be settled. The only problem with this is that the plaintiffs in the case, the merchant groups, are not happy with the ruling.
The back-story in this case goes back several years. This litigation has been going on since 2005. This year, a $7.25 billion settlement was awarded to the plaintiff group consisting of up to 8 million retail merchants. The merchants argued that the $7.25 billion was merely a drop in the bucket compared to what they should be awarded. The retail merchants are upset about the way that the credit card companies set the swipe fees. They keep raising swipe fees and there is no legislation in place to deal with these fees.
The merchants argue that if they take this settlement, it will prevent them from being able to file further lawsuits against the credit card companies in relation to this matter.
Last week, Judge Gleeson issued a statement that the settlement appeared to be in line with what it should be. However, he did not officially issue a ruling in the case or a preliminary statement. The judge also said that if anyone objected to his opinion, they could submit it in writing before October 31. The judge will then go over all of the objections before issuing any rulings.
The legal representation of the merchants said that the case “is a thinly disguised attempt by Visa and MasterCard and the bank defendants to improperly get immunity from merchant claims going forward, immediately and forever.” Obviously, they believe that this decision would negatively impact the merchant’s ability to generate profit in the future, as well as lead to a great deal of uncertainty.
Payment processing has always been a point of contention for many businesses. Merchant services accounts can appear to be complicated and have many different fees associated with them. This ruling will not clear up any of that, but has the potential to make things more difficult on retailers going forward. If the credit card companies including MasterCard and Visa are able to set these fees at any amount they want without repercussion, it could cause big problems.
It remains to be seen whether the court will go ahead and approve the settlement of $7.25 billion or if it will reopen the case and work toward a higher amount. The court is expected to have some kind of a decision before the end of the year, depending on all of the factors involved.
Regardless of what happens, this probably isn’t going to do anything to repair the relationship between credit card processing companies and the merchants that have to use their services to accept payments from their customers. The industry could be changing significantly in the near future.