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A federal appeals court on Monday ordered reinstatement of a lawsuit that accuses Duke Energy Corp. of paying kickbacks to big Cincinnati-area companies to win their support for a 2004 electricity rate increase.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed a federal judge's 2009 decision and reinstated the 2008 antitrust lawsuit filed on behalf of some Ohio businesses and individuals who bills rose.

The district court judge had concluded that federal courts lacked jurisdiction over the case and that the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, which approved the rate increase, had exclusive jurisdiction over state-law claims.

The three-judge appeals panel, however, said in its unanimous ruling that the lower court was incorrect and that "no circumstances exist here that would deprive the district court of jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state-law claims."

The lawsuit claims that, in 2004, the utility known then as Cinergy Corp. paid off large corporate customers who opposed the rate increase request. The lawsuit alleges that the opposition ended after the companies signed rebate deals with Duke.


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