An antitrust lawsuit filed against Illinois real estate companies, Realtor associations and individuals has been revamped in an effort to meet new standards that relate to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The lawsuit, originally filed by Illinois broker Gregory Hackman in November 2006 and amended in October 2007, charges that other industry participants retaliated against Hackman when he offered a reduced commission rate for real estate services.
The amended complaint alleges that the parties named in the lawsuit “entered into an agreement where they would … retaliate against Hackman in every facet of his business,” specifically refusing to show Hackman’s listings to their own clients and refusing to present offers on their listings from potential buyers represented by Hackman.
The complaint alleges occurrences in which parties named in the lawsuit “stole” a client from Hackman by convincing a client to break a contract, and in another instance made “derogatory” statements to a home seller about Hackman, among other incidents.
U.S. District Court Judge Elaine E. Bucklo dismissed portions of the original lawsuit last year but allowed Hackman’s legal team to amend the original complaint and to provide more detailed evidence supporting allegations that an agreement was made among competitors. The judge cited Bell Atlantic Corp. vs. Twombly, a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in May 2007, in requesting more detailed evidence.
Hackman’s amended complaint names Dickerson-Nieman Realtors, Whitehead Realtors, Coldwell Banker Premier, Prudential Crosby Realtors, Tom McKiski realtors, 10 individuals, the Rockford Area Association of Realtors and Illinois Association of Realtors.
Some of the respondents to the lawsuit filed motions to request that the judge dismiss the amended complaint while others issued responses to the complaint. Century 21 Country North and Diane Parvin, a Century 21 Realtor, have been dismissed from the case for settlement, said David Sigale, a lawyer for Hackman.
Sigale said, “There is a lot of confusion over what exactly this new … standard is” in antitrust law as it relates to the Bell Atlantic Corp. vs. Twombly case, with some courts interpreting that case as a major change to U.S. Sherman Act antitrust law and others finding more minor changes. “We amended the complaint to add more detail,” he said. “I think had this Bell Atlantic case not come down the pike right during the middle of all of this, I think the first complaint probably would have been fine.”
While ethics proceedings against Hackman were pending with the Rockford Area Association of Realtors, a local real estate trade group of which Hackman is a member, Sigale said those proceedings are on hold pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
Tyler A. Moore, a lawyer who represents Tom McKiski Realtors and Realtor Larry Petry in the lawsuit, said he believes the allegations in the lawsuit represent “a baseless claim,” and he filed a response to the lawsuit on behalf of his clients. Moore also said that the allegations in the complain “are nearly identical regardless of the defendant,” and he expects a ruling from the judge on all of the motions to dismiss the complaint within the next 30-45 days.
David M. Schultz, a lawyer whose firm is representing the Rockford Area Association of Realtors and Illinois Association of Realtors, said in a statement that he has recommended, on behalf of his clients that the judge dismiss the amended complaint. “I do not think the amended complaint is significantly different, and I do not believe it is sufficiently different to fix the problems in the original complaint … the court granted our motion to dismiss the original complaint.”
The motion by the Realtor groups states that the judge did not grant any leave for Hackman to file an amended complaint against the two Realtors groups after it dismissed those groups from the original complaint. “This case is primarily a dispute between Hackman and other real estate brokerage firms and their individual Realtor agents,” the motion states, and adds that the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of Hackman’s complaint.
Also, the motion states that the complaint does not show that the Rockford association and its CEO Terrie Hall “engaged in any anticompetitive conduct violative of the Sherman Act,” and states that “Hackman improperly seeks to have this court intervene in an ethics complaint” hearing that has not been held.
Hackman’s amended complaint charges that he lost real estate commissions and other income as a result of “intentional interference” with his client and agent relationships, and claims damages over $500,000.