By Mike Scarcella
Jan 17 (Reuters) – Washington state’s highest court on Tuesday cleared the way for Albertsons Companies Inc ACI.N to pay a $4 billion dividend ahead of the grocer’s proposed deal with rival Kroger Co KR.N, as the justices declined to take up a claim that the payout would harm industry competition.
The Washington Supreme Court made the decision after a lower court judge refused last month to issue a preliminary injunction against the dividend. The Washington attorney general’s office in November sued to block the dividend, arguing that it would weaken Albertsons before Kroger’s $25 billion purchase.
Kroger is the country’s largest supermarket chain, and Albertsons is the second largest. The merger proposal will be reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission, which polices merger and acquisition activity for compliance with antitrust law.
The decision was a rare win for the grocer, which has faced blowback for its merger proposal from unions and some Democratic members of the U.S. Congress.
An Albertsons spokesperson did not immediately comment on the court’s order, but the company has said it would move to make the dividend payment as soon as possible.
Attorneys for the company at law firms Jenner & Block and Debevoise & Plimpton did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Washington attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a similar request.
(Reporting by Mike Scarcella in Maryland; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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