Valassis Wins Directed Verdict Motion in News America Trial

Last Updated Jul 16, 2009 10:31 AM EDT

Valassis won a directed verdict motion in a Michigan state court case which alleges that News America Marketing employed illegal monopoly practices to dominate in-store supermarket advertising and the newspaper coupon business.

After a jury heard several witnesses brought by Valassis, News America asked the judge to find that Valassis had not made its case -- that as a matter of law there was no case to answer, and that therefore the jury should not get to consider its verdict.

But Judge Michael Sapala of Wayne County Circuit Court in Michigan ruled that Valassis had brought enough evidence for a jury to consider, and the trial continues. Sapala said:

The question is whether all of the facts taken together are sufficient to permit this case to go to the jury on the two counts that have been submitted, and I am satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to support each count, and that being tortious interference and unfair competition.
The judge put together 13 "groupings of facts" that he believed could allow a jury to conclude in Valassis' favor. Firs among them, Sapala said, was that:
... the jury could conclude that the CPGs have no reasonable practical alternative to the Defendant for in-store promotions. The testimony would compel the conclusion that Defendant is dominant in the ISP business.
On its own, the ruling is a minor event in the trial. News America probably did not expect to win the motion and merely brought it to chance its arm. And while the judge's ruling lays out 13 reasons why Valassis has proven its case, it does not mean that Valassis is going to win. The jury has yet to hear from News America's witnesses, and much of the testimony in the trial so far has been complicated and difficult to follow, even for people familiar with ther industry.

Nonetheless, the Valassis team will see the ruling as one of the few remaining legal hurdles to cross, with the jury verdict being the finish-line tape.