April 09, 2019

Benjamin Brown, a partner at Cohen Milstein and co-chair of the firm's antitrust practice group, is a lawyer whose name the real estate industry may come to know well.

You may not know Benjamin Brown by name, yet — but he’s recently become a significant figure in the U.S. residential real estate industry.

Brown is a partner at Cohen Milstein, one of six major law firms that last month joined together to file a sweeping class-action lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Realogy, HomeServices of America, RE/MAX, and Keller Williams, alleging all of these major names in real estate have been committing antitrust violations by requiring homesellers to pay the commissions of buyer brokers as well.

If they win, the status quo could disappear, and many more homebuyers could begin paying their agents directly.

The plaintiff behind the case that Brown and his fellow lawyers are representing is a Minnesota homeseller named Christopher Moehrl. But the case seeks damages on behalf of all homesellers who paid a broker commission in the last four years in connection with the sale and listing of their home in one of 20 Realtor association-owned MLSs in 20 market areas nationwide, potentially including millions of aggrieved homesellers.

The other five firms include Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLC, Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC, Justice Catalyst Law, Wright Marsh & Levy, and Teske Katz Ktizer & Rochel PLLP. And the six have a formidable track record, having won settlements worth billions (or hundreds of millions) of dollars against corporate giants including Anthem, Apple, Volkswagon, BP, Samsung, Philip Morris, Toyota, Pfizer subsidiary Wyeth, and Visa.

Brown himself has previously served as a trial attorney in the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School, where he teaches complex litigation.

Since the lawsuit’s filing, opinions in the industry have varied with some saying the lawsuit could wreak havoc on homebuyers and Realtors or turn out to be a dud.

Inman interviewed Brown over the phone to discuss what he hopes the suit will accomplish, how much it will seek in damages, how long it could last, and what it will mean for the real estate industry going forward.

The complete interview can be accessed here (subscription required).