AT&T (NYSE:T) will ask a federal judge to dismiss Sprint’s (NYSE:S) lawsuit to stop its purchase of T-Mobile. In a hearing today in Washington, AT&T will argue that Sprint, as a competitor rather than consumer, has no right under antitrust law to bring the suit.
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Sprint’s suit claims the $39 billion deal would hurt its business, but the carrier’s advice on the Justice Department’s suit would be limited by its restricted access to confidential AT&T information should AT&T successfully have Sprint’s suit thrown out. “It will expedite the government’s case to have Sprint as an official ally,” said Thomas Horton, a law professor at the University of South Dakota Law School and former antitrust attorney, but should Sprint’s case be thrown out, the Justice Department will still be able to pursue its case.
On October 12, Sprint told U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle it needed access to confidential data the Justice Department collected from AT&T during the U.S. probe of the proposed T-Mobile merger. Sprint said it suffered from “fundamental unfairness” because, as a competitor with relevant information, AT&T was allowed to subpoena Sprint documents for use in its antitrust case.
AT&T has asked Sprint for information relating to transactions entered into since January 2004, including deals with Nextel, which the company ultimately acquired, Virgin Mobile, and Clearwire Corp. (NASDAQ:CLWR) but Sprint it challenging AT&T’s bid to obtain said documents.
“AT&T already possesses 2.2 million pages of Sprint documents,” Sprint said in a brief filed today in federal district court in Washington. It called the request “unduly burdensome.” Meanwhile, Sprint’s ability to get documents from AT&T have already been suspended while Huvelle weighs the motion to dismiss.
The Justice Department said in its court papers that Sprint’s access to the material would help its case. Sprint has the “technological and business” expertise to analyze the arguments and evidence, according to the papers. While technically U.S. competition law is designed to protect consumers and not rivals, the government has relied upon the testimony of competitors in antitrust cases in the past.