High court: Energy companies must face price fixing claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that energy companies can be sued under state antitrust laws for illegally manipulating natural gas prices more than a decade ago during California's energy crisis.

The justices on Tuesday ruled 7-2 against American Electric Power Co., Duke Energy Co. and other natural gas traders arguing that federal law precludes state law claims.

Natural gas customers allege the companies falsely reported data to industry trade publications, leading to higher gas prices.

A federal district court sided with the gas traders. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed and said retail buyers of natural gas could go forward with their lawsuit.

The Supreme Court agreed in an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote that the state claims at issue are directed at retail pricing within the province of states and not pre-empted by federal law.

Among the consumers who sued over rise in gas prices are manufacturers Learjet, Inc., and Briggs & Stratton Corp., as well as a Colorado brewery, a Kansas school district, a Wisconsin college and a Missouri hospital.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia dissented in Oneok v. Learjet, 13-271.

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