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U.S. appeals court revives aluminum antitrust cases vs Goldman, JPMorgan, Glencore

Jonathan Stempel

Glencore@

NEW YORK, Aug 27 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived lawsuits by aluminum purchasers that accused Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, mining company Glencore and other companies of conspiring to drive up prices for the metal by reducing supply.

In a 3-0 decision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said a federal judge erred in dismissing antitrust claims by "direct" purchasers of aluminum such as Novelis, and by other purchasers including Eastman Kodak, Fujifilm and Reynolds Consumer Products.

Purchasers accused banks and commodity trading, mining and metals warehousing companies of conspiring to hoard aluminum inventory earlier this decade, after prices had declined because industrial activity fell during the global financial crisis.

The purchasers said the alleged conspiracy led to delays in processing orders and higher storage costs, ultimately inflating the cost to produce cabinets, flashlights, soft drink cans, strollers and other goods containing aluminum.

Lawyers for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Writing for the appeals court, Circuit Judge Pierre Leval said the purchasers could sue because they claimed to suffer harm in a market that the defendants allegedly restrained, the market to buy and sell primary aluminum.

He distinguished them from commercial end users and consumer end users, whose own antitrust claims were rejected by the appeals court in an August 2016 decision because their claimed injuries were too far removed from the alleged misconduct.

Leval faulted U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, who has since returned to private practice, for relying on that decision to conclude that any manipulation would have occurred in the warehousing market, not the primary aluminum market.

Unlike the end users, "whose injury was an incidental byproduct of the defendants' alleged violation, these plaintiffs' injuries were a direct result of the defendants' anticompetitive conduct," Leval wrote.

The cases were returned to the federal court in Manhattan, where they are now overseen by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote.

"We're pretty excited," Patrick Coughlin, a lawyer for the direct purchasers, said in an interview.

"Even if manipulation took place in another market, if it were directed toward our clients' markets and inflated the price of aluminum there, we should be able to bring an antitrust case," he added. "We're ready to go to trial."

Lawyers for Kodak and Fujifilm, and a lawyer for Reynolds, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The case is Eastman Kodak Co et al v Henry Bath LLC et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 16-4230, 16-4233, 16-4235, 16-4243, 16-4305 and 16-4308. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York Editing by Marguerita Choy)