Add Sears, Roebuck and Co. to the list of companies filing
suit against DirecTV Inc.
The retailer confirmed last week it filed a
breach-of-contract suit on March 16 in the California state Superior Court, seeking more
than $20 million in unpaid commissions from the direct-broadcast-satellite provider.
In the eight-page suit, Sears claims that once DirecTV
dropped the retail giant last August, DirecTV stopped paying ongoing, monthly commissions
for DirecTV subscribers that the retailer signed up since 1994.
A spokesman for DirecTV offered no comment last week,
pending direction from the company's legal department.
Sears alleges that DirecTV terminated an authorized dealer
agreement last summer because the retailer also sold hardware and programming for
DirecTV's competitor, EchoStar Communications Corp.
EchoStar earlier this year filed suit against DirecTV,
claiming the DBS provider was interfering with its ability to distribute its products at
national retailers. DirecTV filed a countersuit earlier this month.
"It is very important to Sears to offer a choice of
products, and the company will not be coerced into sacrificing that important benefit that
it provides to its customers," Sears outside attorney Barry Langberg of Stroock &
Stroock & Lavan L.L.P. said in a statement.
"I'm not surprised" by the Sears lawsuit, B.G.
Marketing Inc. president and former EchoStar marketing executive Barbara Sullivan said.
"It adds legitimacy to Dish Network's claims. It's part of a domino process."
Sullivan added that her only surprise in hearing about the
Sears suit against DirecTV was that it took so long.
The National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative and two
of its affiliates, Pegasus Communications Corp. and Golden Sky Inc., also have pending
suits against DirecTV.
"The industry is getting big enough that it pays to
sue people -- unfortunately," Alpert & Associates president Mickey Alpert said.
In its suit, Sears also charged DirecTV with negligent
misrepresentation for promising the company it would remain an authorized DirecTV retailer
even after it began selling EchoStar products and services. Sears alleges that the
misrepresentation cost the retailer at least $2 million.
In addition, Sears claims in the suit that DirecTV breached
a contract that Sears made with U.S. Satellite Broadcasting before DirecTV bought USSB.
Sears estimated that related damages were no less than $200,000.
And Sears alleges that on DirecTV's direction, TiVo Inc.
broke an agreement to tag its national ads with the Sears logo. Sears is seeking an
additional $1 million in damages related to lost profits.
Sears continues to sell EchoStar's Dish Network systems,
which have enjoyed strong sales, Sears DBS buyer Jim Smith said.