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UPDATE 1-FTC gets mixed ruling from administrative judge in dental supply fight

(Adds comment from Benco)

WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - An administrative law judge at the Federal Trade Commission has ruled that Benco Dental Supply Co and Patterson Companies Inc violated antitrust law by refusing to compete for the business of buying groups but dismissed a complaint against a third company, Henry Schein Inc, the agency said on Wednesday.

The FTC had accused the three companies, the three largest U.S. full-service distributors of dental supplies ranging from chairs to cement to gloves, of violating antitrust law in February 2018.

Judge Michael Chappell said in a decision dated Tuesday that the FTC "has shown that there was an agreement between Benco and Patterson to refuse to offer discounted prices or otherwise negotiate with buying groups. As held below, that agreement unreasonably restrained trade in the full-service dental distribution market in the United States."

Henry Schein Chief Executive Stanley Bergman welcomed the judge's decision to drop them from the case, saying: "Henry Schein has always been committed to doing business in an ethical manner wherever we operate."

A spokesperson for Benco said it was considering an appeal, adding that "neither the facts nor the law support the FTC claim against Benco." "We have always believed that the FTC claims against Benco were without merit," Benco said.

Patterson Cos said in a statement that it strongly disagreed with the judge's decision and was considering an appeal to the full commission.

"(We) believe the facts demonstrate the company’s independent decision-making in a highly competitive industry," the statement said. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Cynthia Osterman)