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Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News; Shutterstock

Herding the commissions copycats: Judges to hear arguments 

Even as settlements continue to roll in, a panel of judges will hear arguments tomorrow about merging the remaining buyer agent commission lawsuits.

March 27, 2024
3 minutes

Key points:

  • Oral arguments are set to begin Thursday in Charleston, South Carolina, on whether to combine multiple commissions cases.
  • If the panel chooses to consolidate the lawsuits, it must also decide which courtroom will oversee the case.
  • Many of the remaining defendants oppose consolidation, while others want consolidation — with some caveats.

While NAR and several major brokerage companies are working out settlement agreements in the buyer agent commission lawsuits, a key hearing could determine what happens to those defendants who are continuing to fight.

On March 28, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Charleston, South Carolina, is scheduled to hear oral arguments about whether to consolidate many — or all — of the active class action lawsuits brought by home sellers. The judges may also consider adding in cases filed by homebuyers, like the Batton cases in Illinois.

What's at stake is potentially billions of dollars in damages — and a decision about how those damages might be doled out. Will more than 20 separate lawsuits go to trial on different timelines, with each jury deciding their fate? Or will the cases be merged and heard as one?

Following a proposal filed in December by attorneys in the Umpa and Gibson cases, the panel of seven judges was originally tasked with deciding whether nine commissions lawsuits should be rolled into one case and held in a Kansas City courtroom. The attorneys also proposed that the case be handled by U.S. District Judge Stephen Bough, who oversaw the Sitzer/Burnett trial in October.

The National Association of Realtors then countered with another proposal to roll all of the known cases into one and move it to a Chicago courtroom.

NAR withdrew from the case as part of its nationwide settlement agreement, but others who have not yet settled have echoed NAR's proposal through written arguments.

Where defendants stand on consolidation

Many of the defendants in the more than 20 active cases oppose consolidation, according to documents submitted to the panel in recent weeks. Some argued that consolidation would be "inefficient and unduly burdensome," while others pointed out that each case should be considered unique and local in character.

Other defendants weren't opposed to consolidation, but didn't support moving the case to the Kansas City courthouse where a jury awarded $1.8 billion in damages to the home sellers in Sitzer/Burnett. Many supporters of consolidation want the case held in Illinois or Texas.

Whatever the panel decides, it appears that some of the copycat lawsuits will be disappearing as more defendants choose to settle. In addtion to NAR, Compass and Keller Williams reached settlement agreements after the Sitzer/Burnett agreement, while RE/MAX and Anywhere Real Estate came to an agreement with plaintiffs prior to the trial.

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