Court upholds Judge's ruling, opts not to delay Whole Foods/Wild Oats deal

WASHINGTON A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled in favor of Whole Foods Market’s bid to buy rival organic grocer Wild Oats Markets, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a request by the Federal Trade Commission to delay the $565 million sale pending the outcome of an appeal. Whole Foods lawyers argued that such a ruling would have killed the deal.

On Friday, Aug. 17, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman refused to block the transaction, a decision that the FTC appealed before noon the following Monday. They claimed that if the two companies combine, it would result in less competition and higher prices for premium and organic food.

The appeals court, in a brief ruling, agreed that the FTC "raised some questions" about the deal, but the judges said the agency had not proven that Friedman’s decision was flawed.

Representatives from the FTC did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Whole Foods officials have said they would move at the first opportunity to close the deal. The company’s tender offer to purchase all outstanding shares of Wild Oats stock expires Monday.

"We are pleased to have cleared what we expect to be our last legal hurdle," Whole Foods chairman and chief executive officer John Mackey said in a statement. "We look forward to closing this merger and believe the synergies gained from this combination will create long-term value for our customers, vendors and shareholders as well as exciting opportunities for our new and existing team members."

The appeals court agreed Monday to delay the transaction so that it could consider additional information. Its ruling Thursday came just hours after the FTC was expected to file its final brief in the case, according to the Associated Press.

Whole Foods has completed 18 successful acquisitions in the past 27 years. The company’s Web site states that approximately 25 percent of its current sales stem from stores it has acquired and 75 percent from those it has opened.

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