Ballard Spahr is representing the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) in a lawsuit—filed today in the U.S District Court for the District of Maryland—alleging that numerous chemical companies and individuals violated state and federal antitrust laws by conspiring to increase the prices of aluminum sulfate purchased by the Commission.

This is the third such lawsuit filed by Ballard Spahr on behalf of a major purchaser of aluminum sulfate. In late May, the firm filed suits on behalf of the cities of Baltimore and Richmond. Aluminum sulfate is a chemical purchased in bulk by municipalities and municipal authorities, including WSSC, to produce clean, safe drinking water and to purify wastewater. Between 1997 and 2016, WSSC spent approximately $9 million dollars on aluminum sulfate.

"This lawsuit is about protecting the investment our customers made in safe, clean water," said WSSC General Manager and CEO Carla A. Reid. "The suppliers named in this suit conspired to deprive us of a competitive price for this essential product and we will hold them accountable."

The lawsuit stems from a criminal investigation into the aluminum sulfate industry that has resulted in guilty pleas to federal charges of price-fixing and bid rigging. To date, more than 68 civil lawsuits have been filed in federal courts by water utilities, municipal governments, and other entities—either individually or as a class action—in an attempt to recover losses caused by the artificially elevated prices.

WSSC's lawsuit alleges that executives of several companies, including Delta Chemical Corporation and USALCO, LLC, met to discuss their aluminum sulfate businesses and formulated a plan to suppress competition. The suit includes allegations that the companies intentionally submitted losing bids that favored a particular company or withdrew winning bids, and unlawfully discussed the price and terms of their quotes.

Established in 1918, WSSC is among the largest water and wastewater utilities in the nation, with a network of more 11,000 miles of pipeline. The utility serves 1.8 million residents in Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Antitrust law allows a successful plaintiff to recover three times its damages. Although the lawsuit was filed in Maryland, it likely will be transferred for pretrial proceedings to the federal court in Newark, New Jersey, where dozens of similar lawsuits arising from the alleged scheme are coordinated in multidistrict litigation. A trial would take place at the U. S.District Court in Greenbelt.