Illinois dealer’s lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler can go forward

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s U.S. unit failed to persuade a federal judge to throw out an antitrust lawsuit claiming it pushed dealers to submit fraudulent sales numbers to prop up the carmaker’s share price. Two dealerships owned by the Napleton Auto Group, including Napleton’s Arlington Heights Motors in Illinois, originally sued Fiat Chrysler in January, alleging racketeering, violations of antitrust laws and breach of contract. The original suit was never served on FCA and an amended complaint was filed in March. FCA denied the allegations in the suit.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall in Chicago threw out the racketeering claim, while rejecting Fiat’s motion to dismiss antitrust and other claims. Allegations in the lawsuit spurred a U.S. Justice Department investigation into whether aberrations in reported sales figures as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission misled shareholders about the health of the company. The automaker, which restated the past 5 1/2 years of U.S. sales results in July, said at the time that its counting methodology had been in place for decades and included safeguards to ensure sales weren’t double counted. Napleton provided enough evidence that Fiat Chrysler’s incentives and subsidies“injured competition,’’ bolstering the antitrust claim, Kendall said in her order Tuesday. Kendall also allowed the dealer to pursue allegations of price discrimination.

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