Court: Acme owner may secretly fund anti-Wal-Mart groups

"A federal court in Chicago has ruled that a supermarket chain and a consulting firm enjoyed a legal right to engage in a secretive campaign to thwart competitors," says the Wall Street Journal here. 

The judge on Tuesday "dismissed a lawsuit brought by two Illinois property developers who claimed that Supervalu Inc. [which owns Acme Markets and other grocery chains] and Saint Consulting Group had engaged in fraud and other illegal business practices in blocking proposed shopping centers in suburban Chicago that were to include Wal-Mart Stores Inc. supercenters."

The lawsuit, which followed a Journal expose', "claimed that Supervalu, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., and Saint Consulting secretly funded and organized citizen opposition to the shopping centers, even paying for a lawyer who helped landowners petition a judge and other officials to block a shopping center.

"The lawyer, the lawsuit alleged, acted improperly by failing to promptly deliver settlement offers to his landowner clients to further slow one of the shopping centers."

The judge said SuperValu and its contractors "do not really deny they were sneaky" -- but added that businesses are protected when they ask legislators and courts for help, said the Journal, "even when those efforts thwart competition and include 'unethical and deceptive methods.'" The would-be Wal-Mart developers may appeal.