A U.S. District Court judge dismissed portions of a real estate broker’s antitrust lawsuit filed against multiple Illinois brokerage companies, real estate professionals and Realtor associations while allowing the broker to amend the original complaint and proceed with other aspects of the lawsuit.
Judge Elaine E. Bucklo of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois cited a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in May in tossing out some of the antitrust and other charges brought by Gregory Hackman, an Illinois real estate broker. In that case, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that a lawsuit must provide sufficient facts about alleged antitrust activities in order to proceed in court.
Bucklo noted in her opinion and order that Hackman’s antitrust claim brought under the U.S. Sherman Act “must include ‘enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that an agreement was made,’ ” according to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bell Atlantic case. “Encouragement absent an agreement is not enough,” Bucklo stated.
The Supreme Court case has surfaced in other real estate litigation, too. Inman News has reported that real estate brokerage companies named in a Kentucky price-fixing lawsuit asked the judge to reconsider whether to allow that case to proceed in light of the May decision.
Hackman’s lawsuit, filed in November 2005, alleged federal and state antitrust violations, defamation and business interference by several real estate professionals and brokerages, and also sought an injunction against two Realtor associations related to an ethics hearing. He charged in the lawsuit that a group of real estate professionals and brokerage companies retaliated against him for offering property-listing services for a commission rate of 5 percent, which was lower than the traditional rate of 6 to 7 percent in the area.
The lawsuit alleges “that their retaliatory actions included refusing to present offers on their own listings from potential purchasers represented by (him), and disparaging Hackman to discourage their seller clients from accepting offers from his purchasing clients,” according to court documents.
The U.S. District Court order dismisses all of the charges that Hackman brought against the Rockford Area Association of Realtors trade group and the statewide Illinois Association of Realtors. Terri Hall, association executive for the Rockford Area Association of Realtors, said of the judge’s order, “We’re just very pleased with the decision.” The association’s ethics hearings related to Hackman are pending, she said, though there has been no date announced for those proceedings.
Also, the judge dismissed state and federal antitrust charges and business interference charges brought against Prudential Crosby Realtors and Prudential real estate agent Jessica Licary while denying a motion to dismiss defamation allegations from the lawsuit.
Also, the court tossed out portions of a business interference claim against Century 21 Country North Inc. agent Diane Parvin, and noted that the Century 21 brokerage was already “dismissed from this litigation.”
David G. Sigale, a lawyer who is representing Hackman, said that a settlement was reached with Century 21 Country North under which that company denies all liability and is no longer a party in the lawsuit. That company is the only “realty company defendant that is no longer in the case,” Sigale said.
Officials at Century 21 Country North could not be reached for comment. Other brokerage companies named in the case include Dickerson-Neiman Realtors, Whitehead Realtors, Coldwell Banker Premier and Tom McKiski Realtors.
The court denied motions by three real estate professionals to dismiss the lawsuits claims of interference with expected business while agreeing to dismiss a defamation claim brought against one of the professionals, Ray Young. Court documents state that the inclusion of Young in the lawsuit’s defamation claim was “a typographical error,” according to a response by Hackman.
Several real estate professionals and Dickerson-Neiman Realtors had asked for a more definite statement to back up several allegations in Hackman’s original complaint, and the court ordered that Hackman file an amendment complaint related to defamation and business interference allegations “to more clearly state his separate claims against the relevant defendants.” Also, the court found that Hackman does not need to restate his claims related to allegations of federal and state antitrust violations.
Sigale said that he is scheduled to make a court appearance on Sept. 27 to “get more clarification on amending the complaint, which we certainly intend to do.”