A group of independent ATM operators filed suit Wednesday against Visa Inc., and MasterCard Inc., accusing the credit and debit card companies of conspiring to fix transaction fees on ATMs.
The National ATM Council, a Florida-based trade association for operators, is leading the charge, filing the lawsuit (PDF) along with 13 ATM operators in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Lead plaintiffs' counsel, Washington solo practitioner Jonathan Rubin, said the case marks the first antitrust case in D.C., if not nationwide, to focus on ATM fees, as opposed to the fees charged during other types of transactions.
“We know that there have been competitive distortions in the interchange with merchant, and there’s been the same thing with ATM fees,” Rubin said in a phone interview.
Although Visa and MasterCard are the only named defendants, the complaint accuses the companies of working with banks across the country to draft and enforce rigid agreements on ATM fees. Before spinning off into publicly-held corporations, the lawsuit notes that both Visa and MasterCard were owned by retail banks.
The ATM operators claim that the agreements force them to charge the same rate for all transactions, regardless of whether a transaction is completed over a Visa or MasterCard network. That arrangement, according to the complaint, means operators can’t offer special deals to draw in customers or tailor ATM fees to reflect different types of transactions.
“By restricting their ability to attract customers to lower cost ATM services through lower prices, the ATM restraints put a competitive straightjacket on ATM operators,” the complaint alleges.
Representatives for Visa and MasterCard could not immediately be reached Thursday morning for comment.
Besides asking the court to do away with the ATM fee agreements, the operators are asking for treble damages.
The plaintiffs’ legal team also includes McLean, Va.-based firm Lukas, Nace, Gutierrez & Sachs, and Washington solo practitioner Don Resnikoff.