Mastercard is a party to legal and regulatory proceedings with respect to a variety of matters in the ordinary course of business. Some of these proceedings are based on complex claims involving substantial uncertainties and unascertainable damages. Accordingly, except as discussed below, it is not possible to determine the probability of loss or estimate damages, and therefore, Mastercard has not established reserves for any of these proceedings. When the Company determines that a loss is both probable and reasonably estimable, Mastercard records a liability and discloses the amount of the liability if it is material. When a material loss contingency is only reasonably possible, Mastercard does not record a liability, but instead discloses the nature and the amount of the claim, and an estimate of the loss or range of loss, if such an estimate can be made. Unless otherwise stated below with respect to these matters, Mastercard cannot provide an estimate of the possible loss or range of loss based on one or more of the following reasons: (1) actual or potential plaintiffs have not claimed an amount of monetary damages or the amounts are unsupportable or exaggerated, (2) the matters are in early stages, (3) there is uncertainty as to the outcome of pending appeals or motions, (4) there are significant factual issues to be resolved, (5) the existence in many such proceedings of multiple defendants or potential defendants whose share of any potential financial responsibility has yet to be determined and/or (6) there are novel legal issues presented. Furthermore, except as identified with respect to the matters below, Mastercard does not believe that the outcome of any individual existing legal or regulatory proceeding to which it is a party will have a material adverse effect on its results of operations, financial condition or overall business. However, an adverse judgment or other outcome or settlement with respect to any proceedings discussed below could result in fines or payments by Mastercard and/or could require Mastercard to change its business practices. In addition, an adverse outcome in a regulatory proceeding could lead to the filing of civil damage claims and possibly result in significant damage awards. Any of these events could have a material adverse effect on Mastercard’s results of operations, financial condition and overall business.
Interchange Litigation and Regulatory Proceedings
Mastercard’s interchange fees and other practices are subject to regulatory, legal review and/or challenges in a number of jurisdictions, including the proceedings described below. When taken as a whole, the resulting decisions, regulations and legislation with respect to interchange fees and acceptance practices may have a material adverse effect on the Company’s prospects for future growth and its overall results of operations, financial position and cash flows.
United States. In June 2005, the first of a series of complaints were filed on behalf of merchants (the majority of the complaints were styled as class actions, although a few complaints were filed on behalf of individual merchant plaintiffs) against Mastercard International, Visa U.S.A., Inc., Visa International Service Association and a number of financial institutions. Taken together, the claims in the complaints were generally brought under both Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, which prohibit monopolization and attempts or conspiracies to monopolize a particular industry, and some of these complaints contain unfair competition law claims under state law. The complaints allege, among other things, that Mastercard, Visa, and certain financial institutions conspired to set the price of interchange fees, enacted point of sale acceptance rules (including the no surcharge rule) in violation of antitrust laws and engaged in unlawful tying and bundling of certain products and services. The cases were consolidated for pre-trial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in MDL No. 1720. The plaintiffs filed a consolidated class action complaint that seeks treble damages.
In July 2006, the group of purported merchant class plaintiffs filed a supplemental complaint alleging that Mastercard’s initial public offering of its Class A Common Stock in May 2006 (the “IPO”) and certain purported agreements entered into between Mastercard and financial institutions in connection with the IPO: (1) violate U.S. antitrust laws and (2) constituted a fraudulent conveyance because the financial institutions allegedly attempted to release, without adequate consideration, Mastercard’s right to assess them for Mastercard’s litigation liabilities. The class plaintiffs sought treble damages and injunctive relief including, but not limited to, an order reversing and unwinding the IPO.
In February 2011, Mastercard and Mastercard International entered into each of: (1) an omnibus judgment sharing and settlement sharing agreement with Visa Inc., Visa U.S.A. Inc. and Visa International Service Association and a number of financial institutions; and (2) a Mastercard settlement and judgment sharing agreement with a number of financial institutions. The agreements provide for the apportionment of certain costs and liabilities which Mastercard, the Visa parties and the financial institutions may incur, jointly and/or severally, in the event of an adverse judgment or settlement of one or all of the cases in the merchant litigations. Among a number of scenarios addressed by the agreements, in the event of a global settlement involving the Visa parties, the financial institutions and Mastercard, Mastercard would pay 12% of the monetary portion of the settlement. In the event of a settlement involving only Mastercard and the financial institutions with respect to their issuance of Mastercard cards, Mastercard would pay 36% of the monetary portion of such settlement.
In October 2012, the parties entered into a definitive settlement agreement with respect to the merchant class litigation (including with respect to the claims related to the IPO) and the defendants separately entered into a settlement agreement with the individual merchant plaintiffs. The settlements included cash payments that were apportioned among the defendants pursuant to the omnibus judgment sharing and settlement sharing agreement described above. Mastercard also agreed to provide class members with a short-term reduction in default credit interchange rates and to modify certain of its business practices, including its “no surcharge” rule. The court granted final approval of the settlement in December 2013, and objectors to the settlement appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In June 2016, the court of appeals vacated the class action certification, reversed the settlement approval and sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings. The court of appeals’ ruling was based primarily on whether the merchants were adequately represented by counsel in the settlement. As a result of the appellate court ruling, the district court divided the merchants’ claims into two separate classes - monetary damages claims (the “Damages Class”) and claims seeking changes to business practices (the “Rules Relief Class”). The court appointed separate counsel for each class.
Prior to the reversal of the settlement approval, merchants representing slightly more than 25% of the Mastercard and Visa purchase volume over the relevant period chose to opt out of the class settlement. Mastercard had anticipated that most of the larger merchants who opted out of the settlement would initiate separate actions seeking to recover damages, and over 30 opt-out complaints have been filed on behalf of numerous merchants in various jurisdictions. Mastercard has executed settlement agreements with a number of opt-out merchants. Mastercard believes these settlement agreements are not impacted by the ruling of the court of appeals. The defendants have consolidated all of these matters in front of the same federal district court that approved the merchant class settlement. In July 2014, the district court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the opt-out merchant complaints for failure to state a claim.
In September 2018, the parties to the Damages Class litigation entered into a class settlement agreement to resolve the Damages Class claims. Mastercard increased its reserve by $237 million during 2018 to reflect both its expected financial obligation under the Damages Class settlement agreement and the filed and anticipated opt-out merchant cases. In January 2019, the district court issued an order granting preliminary approval of the settlement and authorized notice of the settlement to class members. Damages Class members will now have the opportunity to opt out of the class settlement agreement. If more than 25% of the merchant purchase volume opts out of the settlement, the defendants would have the option to terminate the settlement agreement. The court has scheduled a final approval hearing in November 2019. The settlement agreement does not relate to the Rules Relief Class claims. Separate settlement negotiations with the Rules Relief Class are ongoing.
As of March 31, 2019 and December 31, 2018, Mastercard had accrued a liability of $916 million and $915 million, respectively, as a reserve for both the merchant class litigation and the filed and anticipated opt-out merchant cases. As of March 31, 2019 and December 31, 2018, Mastercard had $662 million and $553 million, respectively, in a qualified cash settlement fund related to the merchant class litigation and classified as restricted cash on its consolidated balance sheet. During the first quarter of 2019, Mastercard increased its qualified cash settlement fund by $108 million in accordance with the January 2019 preliminary approval of the settlement. Mastercard believes the reserve for both the merchant class litigation and the filed and anticipated opt-out merchants represents its best estimate of its probable liabilities in these matters. The portion of the accrued liability
relating to both the opt-out merchants and the merchant class litigation settlement does not represent an estimate of a loss, if any, if the matters were litigated to a final outcome. Mastercard cannot estimate the potential liability if that were to occur.
Canada. In December 2010, a proposed class action complaint was commenced against Mastercard in Quebec on behalf of Canadian merchants. The suit essentially repeated the allegations and arguments of a previously filed application by the Canadian Competition Bureau to the Canadian Competition Tribunal (dismissed in Mastercard’s favor) concerning certain Mastercard rules related to point-of-sale acceptance, including the “honor all cards” and “no surcharge” rules. The Quebec suit sought compensatory and punitive damages in unspecified amounts, as well as injunctive relief. In the first half of 2011, additional purported class action lawsuits were commenced in British Columbia and Ontario against Mastercard, Visa and a number of large Canadian financial institutions. The British Columbia suit sought compensatory damages in unspecified amounts, and the Ontario suit sought compensatory damages of $5 billion on the basis of alleged conspiracy and various alleged breaches of the Canadian Competition Act. Additional purported class action complaints were commenced in Saskatchewan and Alberta with claims that largely mirror those in the other suits. In June 2017, Mastercard entered into a class settlement agreement to resolve all of the Canadian class action litigation. The settlement, which requires Mastercard to make a cash payment and modify its “no surcharge” rule, has received court approval in each Canadian province. Objectors to the settlement have sought to appeal the approval orders. In 2017, Mastercard recorded a provision for litigation of $15 million related to this matter.
Europe. In July 2015, the European Commission (“EC”) issued a Statement of Objections related to Mastercard’s interregional interchange fees and central acquiring rule within the European Economic Area (the “EEA”). The Statement of Objections, which followed an investigation opened in 2013, included preliminary conclusions concerning the alleged anticompetitive effects of these practices. In December 2018, Mastercard announced the anticipated resolution of the EC’s investigation. With respect to interregional interchange fees, Mastercard made a settlement proposal whereby it would make changes to its interregional interchange fees. The EC issued a decision accepting the settlement in April 2019, with changes to interregional interchange fees going into effect in the fourth quarter of 2019. In addition, with respect to Mastercard’s historic central acquiring rule, the EC issued a negative decision in January 2019. The EC’s negative decision covers a period of time of less than two years before the rule’s modification. The rule was modified in late 2015 to comply with the requirements of the EEA Interchange Fee Regulation. The decision does not require any modification of Mastercard’s current business practices but includes a fine of €571 million (approximately $641 million as of March 31, 2019), which was paid in April 2019. Mastercard incurred a charge of $654 million in 2018 in relation to this matter.
Since May 2012, a number of United Kingdom (“U.K.”) retailers filed claims or threatened litigation against Mastercard seeking damages for alleged anti-competitive conduct with respect to Mastercard’s cross-border interchange fees and its U.K. and Ireland domestic interchange fees (the “U.K. Merchant claimants”). In addition, Mastercard, has faced similar filed or threatened litigation by merchants with respect to interchange rates in other countries in Europe (the “Pan-European Merchant claimants”). In aggregate, the alleged damages claims from the U.K. and Pan-European Merchant claimants were in the amount of approximately £3 billion (approximately $4 billion as of March 31, 2019). Mastercard has resolved over £2 billion (approximately $3 billion as of March 31, 2019) of these damages claims through settlement or judgment. Since June 2015, Mastercard has recorded litigation provisions for settlements, judgments and legal fees relating to these claims, including charges of $237 million in 2018. As detailed below, Mastercard continues to litigate with the remaining U.K. and Pan-European Merchant claimants and it has submitted statements of defense disputing liability and damages claims.
In January 2017, Mastercard received a liability judgment in its favor on all significant matters in a separate action brought by ten of the U.K. Merchant claimants. Three of the U.K. Merchant claimants appealed the judgment, and these appeals were combined with Mastercard’s appeal of a 2016 judgment in favor of one U.K. merchant. In July 2018, the U.K. appellate court ruled against both Mastercard and Visa on two of the three legal issues being considered, concluding that U.K. interchange rates restricted competition and that they were not objectively necessary for the payment networks. The appellate court sent the cases back to trial for reconsideration on the remaining issue concerning the “lawful” level of interchange. Mastercard and Visa have been granted permission to appeal the appellate court ruling to the U.K. Supreme Court. Mastercard expects the litigation process to be delayed pending the resolution of its appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court.
In September 2016, a proposed collective action was filed in the United Kingdom on behalf of U.K. consumers seeking damages for intra-EEA and domestic U.K. interchange fees that were allegedly passed on to consumers by merchants between 1992 and 2008. The complaint, which seeks to leverage the European Commission’s 2007 decision on intra-EEA interchange fees, claims damages in an amount that exceeds £14 billion (approximately $18 billion as of March 31, 2019). In July 2017, the trial court denied the plaintiffs’ application for the case to proceed as a collective action. In April 2019, the U.K. appellate court granted
the plaintiffs’ appeal of the trial court’s decision and sent the case back to the trial court for a re-hearing on the plaintiffs’ collective action application. Mastercard intends to seek permission to appeal the appellate court ruling to the U.K. Supreme Court.
ATM Non-Discrimination Rule Surcharge Complaints
In October 2011, a trade association of independent Automated Teller Machine (“ATM”) operators and 13 independent ATM operators filed a complaint styled as a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against both Mastercard and Visa (the “ATM Operators Complaint”). Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of non-bank operators of ATM terminals that operate in the United States with the discretion to determine the price of the ATM access fee for the terminals they operate. Plaintiffs allege that Mastercard and Visa have violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act by imposing rules that require ATM operators to charge non-discriminatory ATM surcharges for transactions processed over Mastercard’s and Visa’s respective networks that are not greater than the surcharge for transactions over other networks accepted at the same ATM. Plaintiffs seek both injunctive and monetary relief equal to treble the damages they claim to have sustained as a result of the alleged violations and their costs of suit, including attorneys’ fees. Plaintiffs have not quantified their damages although they allege that they expect damages to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Subsequently, multiple related complaints were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging both federal antitrust and multiple state unfair competition, consumer protection and common law claims against Mastercard and Visa on behalf of putative classes of users of ATM services (the “ATM Consumer Complaints”). The claims in these actions largely mirror the allegations made in the ATM Operators Complaint, although these complaints seek damages on behalf of consumers of ATM services who pay allegedly inflated ATM fees at both bank and non-bank ATM operators as a result of the defendants’ ATM rules. Plaintiffs seek both injunctive and monetary relief equal to treble the damages they claim to have sustained as a result of the alleged violations and their costs of suit, including attorneys’ fees. Plaintiffs have not quantified their damages although they allege that they expect damages to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
In January 2012, the plaintiffs in the ATM Operators Complaint and the ATM Consumer Complaints filed amended class action complaints that largely mirror their prior complaints. In February 2013, the district court granted Mastercard’s motion to dismiss the complaints for failure to state a claim. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s order in August 2015 and sent the case back for further proceedings.
U.S. Liability Shift Litigation
In March 2016, a proposed U.S. merchant class action complaint was filed in federal court in California alleging that Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover (the “Network Defendants”), EMVCo, and a number of issuing banks (the “Bank Defendants”) engaged in a conspiracy to shift fraud liability for card present transactions from issuing banks to merchants not yet in compliance with the standards for EMV chip cards in the United States (the “EMV Liability Shift”), in violation of the Sherman Act and California law. Plaintiffs allege damages equal to the value of all chargebacks for which class members became liable as a result of the EMV Liability Shift on October 1, 2015. The plaintiffs seek treble damages, attorney’s fees and costs and an injunction against future violations of governing law, and the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. In September 2016, the court denied the Network Defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint, but granted such a motion for EMVCo and the Bank Defendants. In May 2017, the court transferred the case to New York so that discovery could be coordinated with the U.S. merchant class interchange litigation described above. The plaintiffs have filed a renewed motion for class certification, following the district court’s denial of their initial motion.
Telephone Consumer Protection Class ActionMastercard is a defendant in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) class action pending in Florida. The plaintiffs are individuals and businesses who allege that approximately 381,000 unsolicited faxes were sent to them advertising a Mastercard co-brand card issued by First Arkansas Bank (“FAB”). The TCPA provides for uncapped statutory damages of $500 per fax. Mastercard has asserted various defenses to the claims, and has notified FAB of an indemnity claim that it has (which FAB has disputed). In June 2018, the court granted Mastercard’s motion to stay the proceedings until the Federal Communications Commission makes a decision on the application of the TCPA to online fax services.