Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

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Porter Scott, P.C. (hereafter, “Porter Scott”) defended The Johnson Group Staffing Company, Inc. (hereafter, “TJG” or “Johnson Group”) through two rounds of litigation with its chief competitor, Aerotek, Inc. (hereafter, “Aerotek”). Aerotek first sued TJG after TJG’s founder, Chris Johnson, left Aerotek to form TJG. In the lawsuit, Aerotek alleged that TJG and Johnson, among other things, misappropriated trade secrets by soliciting Aerotek’s customers. TJG and Johnson settled with Aerotek a little over a year later. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review concerned the ownership of fees awarded under Civil Code 3426.4, and whether the prevailing litigant (here, The Johnson Group Staffing Company, Inc.) or the prevailing litigant’s attorney (here, Porter Scott, P.C.) were entitled to the fees awarded to the “prevailing party.” The Court concluded that, absent an enforceable agreement to the contrary, these fees belonged to the attorney to the extent they exceeded the fees the litigant already paid. Furthermore, the Court concluded that, although the parties here entered into a fee agreement, that agreement did not alter the default disposition of fees in favor of the attorney. Because the trial court reached the same conclusion, the Court of Appeal affirmed its judgment. View "Aerotek v. Johnson Group Staffing Co." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court dismissing this lawsuit challenging Defendants' alleged manipulation of natural gas pipeline capacity for failure to state a claim, holding that any differences between two cases filed with regard to this issue did not warrant a different outcome.In 2017, a group of economists published a report alleging that Defendants were able to increase electricity prices in New England by buying up and refusing to release excess transmission capacity in the Algonquin pipeline. In response, a group of electricity end consumers filed suit alleging violations of federal and state antitrust and unfair competition law. Thereafter, PNE Energy Supply LLC, a wholesale energy purchaser, filed this lawsuit also challenging Defendants' conduct in neither using nor releasing reserved pipeline capacity. The district court dismissed the electricity consumers' suit. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the antitrust claims failed on their merits because Defendants' conduct occurred pursuant to a tariff approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. At issue was whether the logic from the electricity consumers' suit also applied to this lawsuit brought by PNE. The First Circuit held that the holding in the first lawsuit controlled and affirmed the district court's dismissal of PNE's lawsuit. View "PNE Energy Supply LLC v. Eversource Energy" on Justia Law

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In an antitrust dispute involving the licensing of motion pictures to movie theaters for public exhibition, Flagship obtained a jury verdict against Century. The jury found true Flagship's allegations that Century had engaged in a practice known as "circuit dealing" by entering into licensing agreements with film distributors that covered licenses to play films not just at The River, a theater located two miles away from the Palme d'Or, but at multiple other Century-owned theaters as well, and using these agreements to pressure distributors into refusing to license films to the Palme d'Or.The Court of Appeal held that a Cartwright Act plaintiff asserting a non-monopoly circuit-dealing claim must prove not only that a theater-circuit owner entered into film licensing agreements covering more than one of its theaters, but that such agreements caused net harm to competition, as determined by the balancing of anti and procompetitive effects under the rule of reason. In this case, the court held that substantial evidence does not support the jury's finding of anticompetitive effects in the relevant market. Furthermore, this failure of proof warrants reversal, as circuit dealing based on multi-theater licensing agreements is not per se illegal under the Cartwright Act. The court reversed the judgment and concluded that it need not address Century's remaining arguments, as well as Flagship's separate appeal challenging the amount of attorney fees awarded. View "Flagship Theatres of Palm Desert, LLC v. Century Theatres, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Michael Hanna was declared to be a vexatious litigant under several subparts of the California Code of Civil Procedure section 391(b). As a result, and the trial court's determination that Hanna was not reasonably likely to succeed on the merits of this action, Hanna was ordered to furnish a $100,000 security bond. The trial court also imposed a prefiling restriction on Hanna in future litigation, requiring Hanna to seek permission from the presiding justice or presiding judge of the court if he brought a civil action as a pro se litigant. The underlying dispute arose from a 2017 complaint Hanna filed against Little League Baseball, Inc., alleging trade libel and unfair and fraudulent business practices. Hanna alleged he was the president of a youth sports organization known as Team Hemet Baseball and Softball (Team Hemet), and in that capacity, he “executed an agreement” with Little League “for the individual ‘. . . right to conduct a baseball and softball program under the name “Little League”’” for one year. In July 2017, Little League “purportedly” placed Team Hemet on a regional hold, which “prevent[ed] any operations by [Team Hemet] until satisfied.” Hanna alleged that Little League “ha[d] improperly obtained money from [Hanna], and continue[d] to improperly obtain money from the general public.” The trial court dismissed the trade libel claim on demurrer. Little League moved for an order finding Hanna to be a vexatious litigant and requiring him to furnish security, and requested the court judicially notice 14 different civil actions filed from 2009 through 2018 involving Hanna as a pro se plaintiff and a defendant. Hanna challenged the vexatious litigant determination and the determination that he was not likely to succeed on the merits of the action. Hanna further contends that the trial court lacked authority to rule on discovery motions and to impose discovery sanctions after the filing of the motion under section 391.1 to declare Hanna a vexatious litigant and to have him furnish security. The Court of Appeal affirmed the prefiling restriction placed on Hanna’s filing of future actions as a pro se litigant. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court agreed the trial court was without authority to rule on the discovery motions or to impose sanctions. "Under the plain language of section 391.6, all further proceedings in the action should have been stayed once the vexatious litigant motion under section 391.1 was filed." The Court therefore reversed the orders imposing discovery sanctions. Judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Hanna v. Little League Baseball" on Justia Law

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The FTC alleged that Qualcomm violated the Sherman Act by unreasonably restraining trade in, and unlawfully monopolizing, the code division multiple access (CDMA) and premium long-term evolution (LTE) cellular modem chip markets.The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, and reversed the district court's permanent, worldwide injunction prohibiting several of Qualcomm's core business practices. The panel noted that anticompetitive behavior is illegal under federal antitrust law, but that hypercompetitive behavior is not. The panel explained that its role was to assess whether the FTC has met its burden under the rule of reason to show that Qualcomm's practices have crossed the line to "conduct which unfairly tends to destroy competition itself." The panel concluded that the FTC has not met its burden.The panel held that Qualcomm's practice of licensing its standard essential patents (SEPs) exclusively at the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) level does not amount to anticompetitive conduct in violation of section 2 of the Sherman Act, as Qualcomm is under no antitrust duty to license rival chip suppliers; Qualcomm's patent-licensing royalties and "no license, no chips" policy do not impose an anticompetitive surcharge on rivals' modem chip sales; rather, these aspects of Qualcomm's business model are "chip-supplier neutral" and do not undermine competition in the relevant antitrust markets; Qualcomm's 2011 and 2013 agreements with Apple have not had the actual or practical effect of substantially foreclosing competition in the CDMA modem chip market; and because these agreements were terminated years ago by Apple itself, there is nothing to be enjoined. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Qualcomm Inc." on Justia Law

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Since 2007, EC Design, LLC, sold its popular personal organizer, the LifePlanner. In 2015, Craft Smith, Inc., wanting to enter the personal-organizer market, reached out to EC Design about a possible collaboration. EC Design and Craft Smith couldn't agree to a collaboration. Craft Smith, with input from Michaels Stores, Inc., designed and developed a personal organizer to sell in Michaels stores, leading to this action in Utah federal district court. EC Design claims the Craft Smith and Michaels product infringed on the LifePlanner’s registered compilation copyright and unregistered trade dress. The district court disagreed, granting summary judgment in favor of Craft Smith and Michaels (collectively, the Appellees) on both issues. On the copyright issue, the district court concluded that EC Design did not own a valid copyright in its asserted LifePlanner compilation. On trade dress, the district court held that EC Design had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact over whether the LifePlanner’s trade dress had acquired secondary meaning. Though the Tenth Circuit disagreed with how the district court framed the copyright issue, the Tenth Circuit affirmed because no reasonable juror could conclude that the allegedly infringing aspects of Appellees’ organizer were substantially similar to the protected expression in the LifePlanner compilation. With respect to the trade dress issue, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court: EC Design had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact over whether the LifePlanner’s trade dress had acquired secondary meaning. Summary judgment as to both claims was affirmed. View "Craft Smith v. EC Design" on Justia Law

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SmileDirect filed suit against the Georgia Board of Dentistry, including the Board’s members in their individual capacities, alleging inter alia, antitrust, Equal Protection, and Due Process violations related to the amendment of Ga. Bd. of Dentistry R. 150-9-.02. On appeal, the Board members challenged the denial of their motion to dismiss the complaint with respect to the alleged antitrust violations.After determining that it does have appellate jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that, based on the facts alleged in SmileDirect's complaint, the Board members are not entitled to state-action immunity under Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341 (1943), at this point in the litigation, and the district court properly denied their motion to dismiss. In this case, the Board members have failed to satisfy the Midcal test by failing to meet the "active supervision" prong of the test and both prongs are necessary to satisfy the test. Furthermore, the court rejected the Board members' argument that ipso facto state-action immunity is available merely because of the Governor's power and duty, and without regard to his actual exercise thereof. The court explained that the Board members have established no more than the mere potential for active supervision on the part of the Governor, and thus they have fallen far short of establishing that the amended rule was "in reality" the action of the Governor. View "SmileDirectClub, LLC v. Battle" on Justia Law

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Reckitt developed Suboxone tablets, a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction. Toward the end of its seven-year period of exclusivity in which other manufacturers could not introduce generic versions, Reckitt developed an under-the-tongue film version of Suboxone, which would enjoy its own exclusivity period. Generic versions of Suboxone tablets would not be rated as equivalent to the name-brand Suboxone film, so state substitution laws would not require pharmacists to substitute generic Suboxone tablets if a patient were prescribed Suboxone film.Purchasers filed suit, alleging that Reckitt’s transition to Suboxone film was coupled with efforts to eliminate the demand for Suboxone tablets and to coerce prescribers to prefer film in order to maintain monopoly power, in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2. The Purchasers submitted an expert report indicating that, due to Reckitt’s allegedly-anticompetitive conduct, the proposed class paid more for brand Suboxone products. The district court certified a class of “[a]ll persons or entities . . . who purchased branded Suboxone tablets directly from Reckitt” during a specified period. The Third Circuit affirmed. Common evidence exists to prove the Purchasers’ antitrust theory and the resulting injury. Although allocating the damages among class members may be necessary after judgment, such individual questions do not ordinarily preclude the use of the class action device; the court correctly found that common issues predominate. View "In re: Suboxone Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee Department of Health allowed two healthcare companies to merge into Ballad Health. Some of the board members of the resulting entity also had ties to another area healthcare organization, MEAC. The plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that Ballad, MEAC, and individual defendants had created an interlocking directorate in violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 19. The defendants moved to dismiss the case for lack of standing. The plaintiffs sought to amend their complaint. Their proposed 29-page complaint included “allegations” that amounted to “colorful insults,” such as that MEAC “surrendered to [Ballad] much in the manner Marshal Petain surrendered France" to Hitler.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. Plaintiffs must allege the elements of standing as they would any other element of their suit. The plaintiffs failed to alleged injury in fact by showing that they suffered “an invasion of a legally protected interest” that is “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” The plaintiffs alleged legal conclusions, speculative risks, and the interests of the general public, saying nothing about what medical services they have sought in the past, what services they will seek in the future, or how the dissolution of MEAC would affect their access to these services. Nothing in the Clayton Act purports to create a novel injury in fact or an exception to the case-or-controversy requirement. View "Bearden v. Ballad Health" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to TLS Management and Marketing Services, LLC (TLS) on its breach of contract claims against Ricky Rodriguez-Toledo, ASG Accounting Solutions Group, Inc. (ASG), and Global Outsourcing Services, LLC (GOS) and the court's finding that Rodriguez and ASG were liable for misappropriation of trade secrets, holding that TLS failed to prove its trade secret claims, and the nondisclosure agreements were unenforceable.Rodriguez was the founder of ASG, a company that, like TLS, offered services in tax planning. ASG signed a subcontractor agreement with TLS that included a nondisclosure provision. Rodriguez later began working for TLS and signed a nondisclosure agreement. After his departure from TLS Rodriguez provided tax services in competition with TLS through ASG and GOS. TLS alleged that Rodriguez and ASG misappropriated TLS's trade secrets and that Rodriguez, ASG, and GOS breached their nondisclosure agreements. The district court granted summary judgment to TLS on the breach of contract claims. After a non-jury trial on the trade secret claims, the district court found in favor of TLS. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) TLS failed to satisfy its burden to prove the existence of trade secrets; and (2) the nondisclosure agreements were so broad as to be unenforceable. View "TLS Management & Marketing Services, LLC v. Rodriguez-Toledo" on Justia Law