The Federal Trade Commission has given final approval for American Stores Co. to sell 37 Alpha Beta and Lucky supermarkets as part of the government’s antitrust clearance of the merger of the two chains, the company said Wednesday.
By giving its nod to the proposed sales, the agency may have set the stage for another court battle between Irvine-based American and the state attorney general.
The FTC tentatively approved the merger in May, but it required American to sell the stores as a condition of its approval. American later arranged to sell supermarkets to Certified Grocers of California, Provigo Corp. and Big Bear Markets.
Plans Were Blocked
American went ahead with its $2.5-billion acquisition of Lucky. But its plans to combine the two chains were blocked in September when U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon ruled in an antitrust suit that such an action could result in higher prices for California consumers.
The suit was filed by state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp. Kenyon’s order halting the merger until a trial can be held is on appeal before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a release Wednesday, American said it will “seek clarification” of Judge Kenyon’s order, which stops American from selling or closing Lucky and Alpha Beta stores. American wants to ensure that the federal court “does not object to American carrying out the FTC’s divestiture order,” the release states.
If Kenyon allows American to sell the 37 stores, the release says, “the sales will be accomplished very rapidly.”
Lawyers with the state attorney general’s office said Wednesday that they had not yet decided whether they will oppose American’s sale of the stores.
Kenyon’s order “prohibits the sale,” said H. Chester Horn Jr., deputy attorney general. Horn said he expects Kenyon will hear American’s request to sell the stores by early next week.
American’s attorney, Stephen Axinn in New York, said the FTC’s approval of the sales “is a step toward completing” the merger and “hopefully starts us on the road” to realizing the benefits of the acquisition.