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ATLANTA -- A federal court has rejected claims that four of the nation's biggest cigarette makers conspired to fix wholesale prices.
A dozen wholesalers and distributors sued in February 2000, accusing Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Corp., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. of illegally fixing wholesale prices since 1993.
The lawsuit was later granted class-action status, covering about 1,500 wholesalers, distributors and small retailers who bought directly from cigarette makers, according to the Associated Press.
But U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester ruled that no reasonable jury would conclude there was price collusion. Lawyers in the case were notified of the decision yesterday. The distributors and wholesalers said they would appeal.
Attorneys for the tobacco companies said they make their pricing decisions independently. "This conspiracy just doesn't make any sense and the judge pointed that out,'" said Stephen Patton, a Chicago attorney who represented Brown & Williamson, which is based in Louisville, Ky.
Similar lawsuits on behalf of consumers are pending in 15 state courts.