Siding with Amazon, a judge has affirmed his earlier decision to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit brought by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who challenged the tech company's restrictions on vendors that use the marketplace.
In a ruling issued this week, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo reiterated that Racine's complaint doesn't contain the kinds of fact-specific allegations that warrant further proceedings. The judge specifically rejected the attorney general's argument that the complaint offered “detailed factual allegations” regarding Amazon's allegedly anticompetitive policies.
“The District simply repeated vague conclusion after vague conclusion devoid of facts to support the vague conclusions it repeatedly stated,” Puig-Lugo wrote.
It's not yet clear whether Racine's office will seek to appeal the ruling.
The decision comes in a lawsuit brought by Racine in May of 2021, when he alleged that Amazon prevents third-party vendors on its platform from charging lower prices at other sites -- including the vendors' own retail platforms. He argued that the policy resulted in higher prices for consumers.
Amazon said that in 2019 it stopped prohibiting third-party vendors from charging lower prices elsewhere on the web. But Racine alleged that Amazon merely replaced that prohibition with a similar “fair pricing policy” mandate.
The company has said its policies are legal, and that the “fair pricing policy” prevents vendors from charging unreasonable prices.
Puig-Lugo dismissed the lawsuit after a hearing in March. While he didn't issue a written decision at the time, Racine's office said in court papers that Puig-Lugo deemed the allegations too conclusory.
Racine's office then asked Puig-Lugo to reconsider, arguing that he “ignored important factual allegations” in the complaint.
The White House backed Racine's request, arguing in a friend-of-the-court brief that the ruling could make it difficult to prosecute antitrust cases in Washington, D.C.
“If left uncorrected, the court’s ruling could jeopardize the enforcement of antitrust law by improperly raising the bar on plaintiffs challenging anticompetitive contractual restraints in the District of Columbia,” the Justice Department wrote.
Puig-Lugo said in his decision that the complaint failed to provide any examples of how Amazon's policies supposedly affected prices of specific items.
The judge also said that while Racine alleged that Amazon monopolizes online marketplaces, the complaint didn't have the kinds of allegations that would prove Amazon violated antitrust laws.
“At the hearing, [Racine's office] acknowledged the existence of competitive online marketplaces from strong corporate entities such as Walmart, Target and eBay. Still, it quibbled with the percentage of the online market which Amazon.com controls in comparison to its competitors,” Puig-Lugo wrote.
But he added that even if the attorney general could prove Amazon controlled a dominant share of the market, that wouldn't necessarily show the company violated antitrust laws.
“In any event,” he wrote, “sellers are free to migrate to other online platforms as market dynamics continue to unfold.”