Bryan Cohen Apr. 15, 2013, 5:52pm

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen lauded a federal appellate court Friday for deciding that federal law does not prevent state businesses and other natural gas consumers from using state antitrust laws.

A prior lower court ruling found that federal energy statutes governing the natural gas industry preempted state antitrust law, which rendered Wisconsin antitrust law unenforceable. Van Hollen's office filed a friend-of-the-court brief on appeal to support the position that federal law does not preempt state antitrust law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Van Hollen's office and reversed the lower court decision. As a result of the decision, Wisconsin businesses may seek recovery for conspiratorial price manipulation.

"I am very pleased with the court's decision allowing these major Wisconsin employers, and other consumers, to utilize state antitrust law to remedy illegal price manipulation," Van Hollen said. "Wisconsin purchasers of natural gas can be severely harmed by illegal price increases, and the court's ruling ensures that our law can fulfill its intended purpose of preventing and remedying illegal anticompetitive conduct."

Several Wisconsin parties, including Ladish Co., Merrick's Inc., Arandell Corporation, Sargento Foods, NewPage, Briggs & Stratton, and Carthage College previously filed lawsuits alleging a group of natural gas companies conspired to manipulate prices between 2000 and 2002. Wisconsin gas purchasers allegedly paid hundreds of millions of dollars in excessive prices as a result of the price-setting, which is prohibited by Wisconsin antitrust law.

The decision will allow the Wisconsin parties to proceed with their claims under state law and seek recovery for the alleged price manipulation.

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