Wheeler realty seeks separate trial

Judge Norman Moon heard arguments on September 25 in a lawsuit alleging that an exclusive deal between Wintergreen Partners and the Charlottesville-based Roy Wheeler Realty is a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. After Mountain Area Realty, a firm based in Nellysford, filed a second amended complaint in U.S. District Court, Wintergreen Partners in turn refiled motions to dismiss the case.

Mountain Area Realty argues that the company created by Wheeler Realty and Wintergreen Partners, Wintergreen Resort Premier Properties, holds an unfair advantage because it is the only firm allowed in the Mountain Inn. Due to this advantage, the complaint says, the market share for Wheeler Realty jumped to 25 percent from 2 percent since the 2006 deal.

The complaint, originally filed in February, claims that the exclusive deal between Wintergreen Partners and Roy Wheeler Realty has led to lost revenue for Mountain Area Realty and higher costs to Wintergreen property owners trying to sell their homes. The firm is seeking an unspecified amount in damages. Details suggest the figure would be at least $15 million.

The defendants’ most recent motion to dismiss the lawsuit argues that Wintergreen Resort Premier Properties simply has a better location. “Every customer in the market is free to choose the real estate firm of his or her choice,” reads the motion.

Judge Moon heard arguments for two separate motions to dismiss in late September, and his ruling isn’t expected for at least six weeks. He also heard arguments for a separate motion by Wheeler Realty to sever the real estate firm from the three other defendants named in the case. If Moon grants the motion to sever, that means the claim against Wheeler Realty will be decided in a separate trial.

The motion states that while Wheeler Realty doesn’t believe Mountain Area Realty’s claims have any merit, it argues that “it would be manifestly prejudicial to have days of testimony” unrelated to the single claim brought against the firm.

Conrad Shumadine, the attorney for the defendants, while willing to discuss the facts of the lawsuit, declined to elaborate on the motions. “I’m not going to comment on the merits of any of these things,” he says.

“My spin on it is that it’s a cautious maneuver,” says Neal Walters, attorney for Mountain Area Realty. Walters made it clear, though, that it was impossible for him to know the motivation behind the motion to sever. “I certainly wouldn’t read their motion as saying anything nice about Wintergreen Real Estate Company.”

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