US judge won't block contact lens anti-price fixing law

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge on Monday refused to block a Utah law banning minimum prices for contact lenses that has drawn the ire of the nation's largest manufacturers.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson in Salt Lake City said in court documents that he wasn't persuaded by arguments from contact-lens makers Johnson & Johnson, Bausch & Lomb and Alcon Laboratories that the law is unconstitutional.

The manufacturers sued the state last month amid an increasingly bitter fight with discount retailers like 1-800-Contacts. They said the law was written at the behest of the Utah-based discounter and minimum prices help eye doctors make recommendations.

They asked for the law to be frozen before it takes effect Tuesday and before the lawsuit itself is resolved.

Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the ruling, spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said.

"We believe our policy allows consumers to make purchasing decisions based on quality, clinical need and cost, and we are appealing the Utah Federal Court's ruling because we believe the Utah state law violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and is at odds with Supreme Court precedent," Goodrich said in a statement.

Alcon said in a statement that it "respectfully disagrees with the court's ruling and intends to press its claim that the Utah law violates the U.S. Constitution." The company added that "to the extent required, Alcon will modify its unilateral pricing policy to avoid any potential conflict with the Utah law."

A message left with Bausch & Lomb was not immediately returned Monday evening.

The measure targets a program that has manufacturers yanking their products if retailers sell them at too steep a discount.

The law's sponsor has said it fosters competition. Lawmakers in a number of states are considering similar legislation this year.

The pricing policies have also been scrutinized by Congress, consumer advocates and others.

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