Defendant’s Motion For Decertification Denied By Missouri Federal Court In Antitrust Home-Selling Commission Class Action

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Sean P. McConnell

Duane Morris TakeawaysOn March 26, 2024, Judge Stephen R. Bough of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri denied HomeServices of America’s (“HomeServices”) motion to decertify a class of home sellers alleging that that Defendants violated the Sherman Act by entering into a conspiracy to follow and enforce a rule adopted by the National Association of Realtors (“NAR”) that had the effect of raising commission rates in Moehrl et al. v. The National Association of Realtors et al., No. 1:19-CV-01610 (W.D. Mo. Mar. 26, 2024). HomeServices argued that the class of plaintiffs fail to satisfy Rule 23(b)(3) because trial showed that individual facts and proof predominated over common issues. The Court accepted Plaintiffs’ arguments that its expert sufficiently demonstrated a but-for world through common evidence, satisfying the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b).

Moerhl is required reading for any corporate counsel handling antirust class actions involving price-fixing allegations.

Case Background

Plaintiffs are home sellers. The Defendants relevant to the motion at bar are HomeServcies, BHH Affiliates, LLC, and HSF Affiliates, LLC. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants violated the Sherman Act by entering into a conspiracy to follow and enforce a rule adopted by NAR, which had the purpose and effect of raising, inflating, or stabilizing buyer broker commission rates paid by home sellers from April 29, 2015, through June 30, 2022. The Court certified the class of plaintiffs on April 22, 2022, and the Eighth Circuit denied Rule 23 review requested by Defendants. In October 2023, a jury awarded $1.8 billion to the class against NAR, HomeServices, and Keller Williams, though Keller Williams had previously settled out of the litigation.

Last month, NAR entered into a groundbreaking $418 million settlement to resolve all related litigation.

The Court’s Ruling

The Court was unconvinced by HomeServices’ arguments and stuck with its initial analysis in granting class certification.

The Court reasoned that the Class’ economic expert opined that commission rates were uniformly high because of the cooperative compensation rule, without which a seller would not pay the commission of the buyer’s broker. According to the Court, trial testimony from the Class Plaintiffs further established that commission rates were uniformly high due to the cooperative compensation rule and that the higher commissions were paid during the entire class period. The Court further found that the damages model of Plaintiffs’ expert sufficiently relied on common proof by calculating the specific amount of damages for each class home sale transaction.

Implications For Defendants

Moehrl is another example of a federal antitrust class certification decision that turned on whether evidence of common, injury-producing conduct existed. The Court credited evidence capable of showing the impact of the anticompetitive conduct across all class member at trial.

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