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A Denver jury has awarded a small Washington company $20.3 million plus legal fees in its antitrust lawsuit against Johns Manville Corp., the Denver-based building products maker owned by Berkshire Hathaway Co.

Thermal Pipe Shields Inc., or TPS, based in Stanwood, Wash., is a maker of pipe support systems that previously had purchased calcium silicate or “calsil” insulation from Johns Manville, which controlled nearly the entire market for that product.

TPS in early 2018 announced it would make the insulation itself with the help of a Chinese manufacturer that Johns Manville had previously contracted with. The insulation is important in shielding pipes carrying hot liquids or gases, like in a petroleum refinery.

But sales didn’t go anywhere, despite what TPS claimed was its much lower-cost and higher-quality product. The company filed a federal complaint in March 2019 in Denver, alleging that Johns Manville had actively disparaged its industrial insulation and threatened building product distributors with retaliation if they carried it.

A federal trial court judge initially ruled in Johns Manville’s favor, but the 10th District Court of Appeals sent the case back to be tried on a narrower antitrust argument. When it finally went to trial, witnesses from five different building product distributors testified about the threats they had received.

On Friday, five years after the initial complaint, a federal court jury found that Johns Manville had a monopoly in the product, had made “anticompetitive” threats to withhold its products from distributors that carried TPS’s competing product and that its actions violated federal antitrust rules.

“This was a hard-fought victory for our client who had the fortitude and staying power to stand up for what’s right. We are grateful that the jury recognized Johns Mansville’s wrongful conduct. No matter how large or powerful, no company is above the law,” said Sean Grimsley, a partner with the Denver law firm Olson Grimsley Kawanabe Hinchcliff & Murray, which argued the case for TPS, in an emailed statement.

The jury awarded TPS $6.78 million, the estimated profit loss. Because it was an antitrust case, damages were tripled, resulting in an award of $20.3 million, plus legal fees.

“As a legal matter, we disagree with the verdict,” said Johns Manville General Counsel Katherine Albery in an emailed statement. “We will carefully evaluate our next steps.”

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