Live Nation ticket buyers sue in wake of US Justice Department case


By Mike Scarcella

(Reuters) -Live Nation and its Ticketmaster unit have been hit with the first in a likely wave of new consumer antitrust lawsuits after the U.S. government and states sued to break up the two companies on Thursday.

The first consumer class action to piggyback on the government cases was filed later on Thursday in Manhattan federal court, seeking $5 billion in damages on behalf of potentially millions of ticket purchasers.

The cases accuse Live Nation of exerting monopoly control over the live events industry, threatening venues that work with rivals and boxing out competitors.

Consumer cases related to U.S. or state attorneys general lawsuits can pile up quickly and put added legal pressure on companies.

Lawyers for the class action plaintiffs at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd and Israel David did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Live Nation on Thursday called the government lawsuit “baseless” and said there was “more competition than ever” in the live events market.

The case was assigned on Friday to U.S. District Judge Arun Subramanian, an appointee of Democratic U.S. President Joe Bidenwho joined the court last year. Subramanian previously represented some plaintiffs in antitrust lawsuits at law firm Susman Godfrey, but the Live Nation case appears to be his first antitrust matter as a judge.

Lawyers who reviewed the government complaint said Live Nation could base its defense partly on the Justice Department’s decision to sign off on the company’s acquisition of Ticketmaster more than a decade ago.

Crowell & Moring’s Eric Enson, an antitrust lawyer who is not involved in the lawsuit, said the government’s case raised thorny “legal and factual questions about whether a breakup is a legally permissible remedy.”

The case might resonate with consumers who have long complained about ticket prices, he said, “but proving antitrust cases to juries can be difficult.”

However, antitrust legal scholar Rebecca Allensworth of Vanderbilt University said that while the public’s opinion of Live Nation is legally unimportant, “appearances matter in cases, maybe especially when they are decided by juries.”

The Justice Department said its prior case in 2010 addressing Live Nation’s merger with Ticketmaster involved a different antitrust law and that Live Nation had since shown “more expansive forms” of anticompetitive conduct.

(Reporting by Mike Scarcella in WashingtonEditing by David Bario, Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis)

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