Most of the information is off-limits due to protections given to previously involved parties. The airlines will have to come up with more creative ways to build their case.
American Airlines and US Airways Group Inc. have no right to Justice Department documents on previous airline mergers they sought to defend against a U.S. lawsuit to block their tie-up, a court-appointed official said.
Special Master Richard Levie, in an opinion issued today in federal court in Washington, recommended to the judge overseeing the case that she reject the request for all but one document, saying the records are exempt from disclosure by the “work product doctrine and the deliberative process privilege.”
“Although defendants have established the relevance of their requests, the various privileges asserted by plaintiffs protect almost all of the requested material from disclosure,” Levie wrote.
The Justice Department, which sued the airlines in August, had refused to turn over records about its approval of airline deals such as the 2010 United-Continental tie-up.
The government claims the proposed merger of American parent AMR Corp. and US Airways, which would create the world’s largest airline, would reduce competition and hurt consumers. Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR and US Airways, based in Tempe, Arizona, are defending the deal as pro-competitive. The case is scheduled to begin trial on Nov. 25.
Levie also recommended that U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly turn down the airlines’ bid for the names of third parties interviewed by the government in the course of its investigation, and the information provided by those people. Levie said the work-product privilege also protects the U.S. against having to disclose that material.
In a joint statement, the airlines said, “We are reviewing the special master’s ruling and will consider all of our options. ‘‘We are confident in our legal position and our ability to win this case.’’
The case is U.S. v. US Airways Group Inc., 13-cv-01236, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
With assistance from Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas. Editors: Fred Strasser and Charles Carter.
Photo credit: A US Airways Express plane takes off with the U.S. Capitol in the background at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington. Reuters / Kevin Lamarque