A superior court judge in Whatcom County, Wash., has ordered the Bellingham-Whatcom County Multiple Listing Service to pay $50,000 in sanctions related to an earlier lawsuit against the Northwest MLS of Kirkland, Wash., according to an announcement Thursday by the Northwest MLS.

Officials at the Bellingham-Whatcom group had no comment.

The Bellingham-Whatcom County MLS, which has about 900 members in 70 offices, alleged in a lawsuit filed in January that Northwest MLS engaged in a “pattern of anti-competitive activities,” including the absorption of eight formerly independent MLSs in nearby counties and efforts to “undercut” independent MLSs.

The Bellingham-Whatcom group also filed an antitrust complaint in November 2004 with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Northwest MLS appeared to be “intent on driving the Bellingham-Whatcom County (MLS) out of business.”

Northwest MLS has about 18,000 members in 1,300 brokerages across Washington.

The sanction against the Bellingham-Whatcom MLS follows a May 6 court decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

Chris Osborn, a lawyer for Northwest MLS, said in a statement today that the court took the unusual step of penalizing the Bellingham-Whatcom County MLS under a law that allows awarding a party reasonable expenses incurred in defending a claim that is “frivolous and advanced without reasonable cause.”

A lawsuit is “frivolous” under the law when “it cannot be supported by any rational argument on the law or facts” Osborn stated.

Northwest MLS president and CEO Jack Johnson said in a statement today that he is pleased with the outcome of the legal battle, referring to the court’s ruling as a “clear statement that NWMLS has done nothing wrong,” according to the announcement.

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