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Judge Refuses to Order Visa to Allow Sears to Issue Prime Option

January 5, 1993

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A federal judge has refused to order Visa U.S.A. to let Dean Witter Financial Services start issuing its Prime Option Visa Card.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson comes as he considers Visa’s request for a new trial in a lawsuit it lost against Dean Witter and its parent company, Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Despite the judge’s ruling, which was issued quietly last week, Dean Witter spokeswoman Beth Metzler said Monday the company still plans to push forward with its new Prime Option credit card.

″We are disappointed, particularly when a jury unanimously decided that exclusion of our card from the market substantially harms competition and the consumer,″ said Beth Metzler, a spokeswoman for Dean Witter.

In the case, Sears alleged Visa broke federal antitrust laws when it refused to let it issue a new Visa-branded credit card called Prime Option. Sears planned to issue the card through a thrift it owns, MountainWest Financial of Sandy, Utah, near Salt Lake City.

Visa says it blocked the Prime Option card because Sears is a direct competitor since it issues the Discover Card.

A federal court jury in November ruled in favor of Sears, and the company had planned to put 18 million applications for Prime Option cards in the mail in February.

Visa spokesman Brad Hennig said the company was more hopeful of reversing the verdict after Benson’s ruling.

Dean Witter still plans to move Prime Option’s headquarters from Riverwoods, Ill., to Utah sometime this year, Metzler said. The company has said that if it wins the dispute, Prime Option’s work force in Utah could be as large as 4,000 by 1995.

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