Realtors group wins lawsuit

The Spokane Association of Realtors won a lawsuit brought by three of its members, who wanted access to the organization’s database of for-sale properties without paying for membership in the future.

The lawsuit, filed in mid-2004, was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko in a summary judgment filed Friday.

Requiring agents to be members of the Spokane Association of Realtors in order to use the multiple listing service isn’t an antitrust violation, Suko said in his ruling.

Instead, it “appears to be a lawful exercise of a trade association’s right to limit its services to its members,” Suko wrote.

The Spokane Association of Realtors charges an annual membership fee — $335 at the time the suit was filed, although some of that went to the group’s state and national affiliates — and a separate monthly fee for use of its multiple listing service, which is a countywide database of properties for sale.

Mathew Prencipe, William H. Koshman and Robert H. Cooke, the three Spokane real estate agents who filed the lawsuit in 2004, claimed that “many realty agents who purchase MLS services in Spokane County… have no need for the bundle of trade association services forced on them by the Board of Realtors.”

They also claimed that in other regions, including Seattle and Tacoma, real estate agents are able to pay for access to the MLS database without becoming members of a Realtors organization.

They had hoped to have their lawsuit certified as a class action and said in the original complaint that they envisioned a potential claim of $8.7 million against the real estate organization.

David Barry, the San Francisco-based attorney for the three real estate agents, said he’s disappointed in the ruling and unsure if he’ll pursue an appeal.

“It may end right here,” Barry said.

Michael Hines, an attorney at Lukins & Annis who represented the Spokane Association of Realtors, said in a statement that Suko’s rejection of the plaintiffs’ argument “is a victory for real estate professionals and consumers alike.”

In a telephone interview, Hines said he believed the judge was swayed by the fact that “it’s very easy to become a member of SAR, so there’s no difficult barrier to overcome.”

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