NEW YORK - A federal district court has kept alive Dean Witter, Discover & Co.'s bid to issue credit cards through the MasterCard International system.

The decision was procedural, and the case is still to be decided.

MasterCard had asked the court to declare that it could refuse to grant membership to Dean Witter without violating antitrust laws. Dean Witter had filed a motion listing ways in which it said MasterCard had violated the rules. The judge, Louis J. Freeh, rejected MasterCard's bid to toss out that motion.

Dean Witter, the former Sears, Roebuck and Co. unit that issues the Discover Card, applied for permission to join both the MasterCard and Visa associations. The bank card groups said no, contending that it would be unfair to allow a competitor into their payment systems.

Dean Witter prevailed against Visa U.S.A. in a jury trial in Salt Lake City, and Visa will file briefs Wednesday in its appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court in Denver. MasterCard said it intends to continue to stand its ground.

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