Matson, Horizon in antitrust lawsuit
A class-action filing alleges conspiracy to fix shipping rates via fuel surcharges
An antitrust class-action lawsuit filed in federal court claims Matson Navigation Co. and Horizon Lines Inc. conspired to fix their rate increases through fuel surcharges and at a much higher amount than the actual increase in the cost of the fuel.
Lawyers for Rhythm of Life Cosmetics Inc., which does business as Maui Tropical Soaps, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit seeks class certification on behalf of anyone who paid Matson for shipping from 1999 to the present.
The lawsuit identifies Horizon as an unnamed co-conspirator but not as a defendant. John Edmunds, the Hawaii attorney for Rhythm of Life, refused comment on why Horizon is not named as a defendant. Antitrust lawyers in Washington, D.C., San Diego and Kansas City, Mo., are also representing Rhythm of Life.
A spokesman for Matson said the company could not comment on the lawsuit because it had not seen it.
According to the lawsuit, the prices of diesel for the newer ships and residual fuel oil or bunker oil for the older ships increased approximately 650 percent and 450 percent, respectively, from late 1999 to the present. During the same period, Matson and Horizon implemented fuel surcharge increases in unison of about 3,800 percent, the lawsuit says.
The Hawaii lawsuit comes on the heels of an antitrust lawsuit filed in Washington earlier this month by Bluewater Marine & Dock Specialties Inc. against Matson and Horizon. Bluewater provided the floating dock system recently installed at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.
Horizon is also named as a defendant in two other antitrust lawsuits.
La Esperanza Bus Line, a company that ships buses to Puerto Rico from the mainland, sued Horizon and three other shippers last month for allegedly fixing ocean freight rates in the Puerto Rican market. Century Packing Corp., a processed-meat manufacturer in Puerto Rico, sued Horizon and the same three shippers in April.
Matson is the largest ocean shipper between Hawaii and the mainland, with about two-thirds of the market. Horizon has the rest of the market. Horizon also ships between the mainland and Puerto Rico.
Horizon said federal agents raided its North Carolina offices in April in a U.S. antitrust probe of pricing practices among carriers serving Puerto Rico. The company also said it received a grand jury subpoena in the U.S. Justice Department's investigation.
Matson's parent company, Alexander & Baldwin Inc., said it also received subpoenas.
Last month, Horizon said it placed six employees on administrative leave, and two of them subsequently resigned. The company also said it is cooperating with the Justice Department investigation.