NEW YORK – A federal judge yesterday set an expedited schedule for opponents to air their concerns over the proposed Visa and MasterCard antitrust settlement, a move which could prove difficult to efforts to defeat the landmark deal.

U.S. Judge John Gleeson ruled yesterday the groups that oppose the settlement will have just two weeks since last Friday’s submission of the deal, until October 31, to file their written objections with the court.

A hearing has been scheduled for November 9 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Judge Gleeson must weigh opposition expressed by ten of the 19 named plaintiffs in the seven-year-old antitrust case in deciding whether to certify the settlement, announced in July. The terms of the settlement call for almost eight million retailers to share $7.2 billion payments and to be allowed to discourage use of the cards by surcharging consumers who use them, as well as temporary reductions in interchange fees, known as swipe fees, on credit cards.

The named plaintiffs in the suit opposing the deal are: the National Association of Convenience Stores, NATSO, National Community Pharmacists Association, National Cooperative Grocers Association, National Grocers Association, and the National Restaurant Association. Affiliated Foods Midwest, Coborn’s, Inc., D’Agostino Supermarkets, Jetro Holdings, Inc. and Jetro Cash & Carry Enterprises.

Several other merchants groups have also expressed their opposition in recent weeks, including the National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and National Association of College Stores.

The stakes are huge for both Visa and MasterCard, and the banks and credit unions which control them.

Since it was announced in July, the proposal has been opposed by some of the largest U.S. retailers,

The deadlines set by Judge Gleeson are significantly shorter than parties in the case had anticipated. At recent hearings, a magistrate judge indicated that parties opposing the deal would have until mid-November to file written objections, and a hearing was expected to be scheduled in either December or January.



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