July 23 (Bloomberg) -- Masco Corp.’s trial on claims by independent contractors that it colluded with insulation makers to fix prices was canceled by a federal judge after a lawyer said the parties were in talks with a mediator.
U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes in Atlanta today called off the trial, according to a docket entry. Opening arguments were set to begin this week in the case, which was brought in 2004 by independent contractors who accused Masco and four insulation makers of conspiring to force them to pay more than Masco, one of the largest U.S. installers of home insulation.
In a trial that was expected to last six weeks, 369 independent contractors were seeking $150 million in damages against Masco, the sole remaining defendant after the insulation makers settled for undisclosed terms. In a July 20 telephone conference with the judge, a lawyer for Masco said the parties were talking with a mediator.
“We have been through the mediator since Wednesday in continued discussions, and I think it’s fair to say it’s serious discussions,” William R. Sherman, the Masco attorney, told the judge, according to a transcript. “I really hope that, you know, we’re going to be able to continue those discussions and maybe conclude them over the next couple of days.”
Sherman didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the cancellation or the talks. Steven Rosenwasser, an attorney for the contractors, declined to comment. Maria C. Duey, a Masco spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Details of the settlements with the manufacturers, including CertainTeed Corp. and Johns Manville Inc., have been sealed by the court.
Masco, based in Taylor, Michigan, has previously called the contractors’ allegations baseless. Its motion to dismiss the lawsuit remains sealed by the court.
In a 2009 ruling allowing the case to go to trial, Carnes said there was evidence the insulation makers established a price “spread” that gave Masco a 10 percent to 12 percent discount over independent contractors.
“There are numerous documents in the record reflecting the manufacturers’ apparent need to clear pricing decisions with Masco to ensure that those decisions did not violate a formerly agreed-upon spread,” the judge wrote.
The case is Columbus Drywall & Insulation Inc. v. Masco Corp., 04-cv-03066, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).
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