By Nicole Hong
In a setback for some of the world's largest financial institutions, a U.S. appeals court on Monday reinstated the private antitrust lawsuits filed against 16 banks for allegedly rigging Libor interest rates.
The ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reverses a lower court decision from 2013, in which U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald dismissed the claims in the lawsuits because she said the banks' alleged conduct did not violate federal antitrust laws.
The lawsuits accuse 16 major banks -- including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. -- of collusion in manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, to the detriment of the banks' consumers.
The plaintiffs, who owned various financial instruments that were affected by Libor, claim the returns on their investments were depressed by the banks' collusion. The lawsuits were filed by several groups of plaintiffs, including the local governments of cities like Baltimore, San Diego and Houston.
Judge Buchwald had said the plaintiffs failed to show they were injured by the alleged rate manipulation. She said that because setting Libor was a "cooperative endeavor," there could be no anticompetitive harm to consumers.
But a federal appeals court Monday disagreed and kicked the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. A three-judge panel found that the plaintiffs did show an antitrust injury "by alleging that they paid artificially fixed higher prices."
If this private litigation is ultimately successful, the potential total bill to banks could be in the billions, analysts have estimated.
Write to Nicole Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org