Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

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Taxi companies and taxi medallion owners sued Uber, alleging violations of the Unfair Practices Act’s (UPA) prohibition against below-cost sales (Bus & Prof. Code, 17043) and of the Unfair Competition Law (section 17200). The UPA makes it unlawful “for any person engaged in business within this State to sell any article or product at less than the cost thereof to such vendor, or to give away any article or product, for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition” but does not apply “[t]o any service, article or product for which rates are established under the jurisdiction of the [California] Public Utilities Commission [(CPUC)] . . . and sold or furnished by any public utility corporation.” Uber is a “public utility corporation” under section 17024 and is subject to CPUC’s jurisdiction. CPUC has conducted extensive regulatory proceedings in connection with Uber’s business but has not yet established the rates for any Uber service or product. The trial court ruled the exemption applies when the CPUC has jurisdiction to set rates, regardless of whether it has yet done so, and dismissed the case. The court of appeal affirmed, reaching “the same conclusion as to the applicability of section 17024(1) as have three California federal district courts, two within the last year, in cases alleging identical UPA claims against Uber.” View "Uber Technologies Pricing Cases" on Justia Law

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USFE planned to offer an electronic-based futures trading platform that posed a competitive threat to exchanges using the more traditional floor-trading model, like CBOT. USFE targeted February 1, 2004, as its launch date to establish itself before several futures and options contracts expired, so that traders could transfer their business to USFE. In July 2003, USFE sought approval as a designated contract market by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Commission solicited public comment. CBOT, another futures exchange (CME), and others raised objections. CBOT and CME successfully requested a postponement. USFE approached BOTCC to negotiate an agreement for clearing services that would have provided USFE with access to startup liquidity in the form of open interest created by market participants and held at BOTCC. CBOT also used BOTCC and proposed Rule 701.01. The Commission approved the rule, which compelled the transfer of CBOT’s open interest from BOTCC to its new, exclusive clearing partner. By draining its open contracts from BOTCC, CBOT deprived USFE of access to significant liquidity. The Commission approved USFE on February 4, 2004. USFE launched on February 8. The undertaking flopped. USFE sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The Noerr-Pennington doctrine shields the defendants’ petitioning from antitrust scrutiny and neither exception (fraud or sham lawsuit) applies. The Commission’s explicit approval of Rule 701.01 impliedly repeals the antitrust laws, immunizing defendants against USFE’s open interest claims. View "U.S. Futures Exchange, L.L.C. v. Board of Trade of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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John H. Donboli, JL Sean Slattery, and Del Mar Law Group LLP (collectively the Del Mar Attorneys) filed a mislabeling lawsuit on behalf of a putative class of consumers who claimed they were misled by "Made in the U.S.A." labels on designer jeans manufactured by Citizens of Humanity (Citizens). Citizens's jeans were allegedly made with imported fabrics and other components. The focus of the purported class action was that the "Made in the U.S.A." labels violated former Business and Professions Code section 17533.7. However, a new law was passed after the complaint was filed that relaxed the previous restrictions and, ultimately, the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. Citizens then filed this malicious prosecution action against the named plaintiff in the prior case (Coni Hass), a predecessor plaintiff (Louise Clark), and the Del Mar Attorneys. Each defendant filed a motion to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. Finding that Citizens met its burden to establish a probability of prevailing on the merits, the trial court denied defendants' motions. Appellants Hass and the Del Mar Attorneys appealed, contending Citizens failed to make a prima facie showing that it would prevail on its claims. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding: (1) there were no undisputed fact on which it could determine, as a matter of law, whether the Del Mar Attorneys and Clark had probable cause to pursue the underlying actions; (2) there was evidence which would have supported a reasonable inference the Appellants were pursuing the litigation against Citizens with an improper purpose; and (3) the district court's dismissal of the underlying action, with prejudice, constituted a favorable termination in the context of a malicious prosecution suit. View "Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Hass" on Justia Law

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Employers Resource Management Company (“Employers”) returned to the Idaho Supreme Court in a second appeal against the Idaho Department of Commerce. In 2014, the Idaho Legislature passed the Idaho Reimbursement Incentive Act (“IRIA”). The Economic Advisory Council (“EAC”), a body created under IRIA to approve or deny tax credit applications, granted a $6.5 million tax credit to the web-based Illinois corporation Paylocity, a competitor to Employers Resource Management Company. Employers claimed Paylocity’s tax credit created an unfair economic advantage. Paylocity, however, had yet to receive the tax credit because it did not satisfy the conditions in the Tax Reimbursement Incentive agreement. Having established competitor standing in Employers Res. Mgmt. Co. v. Ronk, 405 P.3d 33 (2017), Employers argued the Idaho Reimbursement Incentive Act was unconstitutional under the separation of powers doctrine. The district court dismissed Employers’s case upon finding the Act constitutional. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Employers Resource Mgmt Co v. Kealy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, Steve Strauss, brought claims against Defendant, Angie’s List, Inc., alleging violations of the Lanham Act. Strauss owned a tree trimming/removal business called Classic Tree Care (“Classic”). Defendant Angie’s List was an internet-based consumer ratings forum on which fee-paying members could view and share reviews of local businesses. According to Strauss, the membership agreement between Angie’s List and its members lead members to believe that businesses were ranked by Angie’s List according to unedited consumer commentaries and endorsements when, in reality, the order in which businesses were ranked was actually based on the amount of advertising the business bought from Angie’s List. He alleged businesses were told they will be ranked more favorably on the website if they paid advertising and referral fees to Angie’s List. According to Strauss, from 2005 to 2016 he paid $200,000 in advertising services fees and coupon retention percentages to Angie’s List “in an effort to appear higher” in search results. The business relationship between Strauss and Angie’s List, however, began to sour in 2013. Strauss alleged he failed to appear in search results for a three-month period and then was “buried” in search-result listings even though he had numerous favorable reviews and a high rating from consumers. In September 2017, Strauss filed a putative class action lawsuit against Angie’s List, raising allegations that Angie’s List engaged in false advertising in violation of section 45(a) of the Lanham Act, as well as the Kansas Consumer Protection Act (KCPA). Strauss appealed when the district court dismissed his complaint on the basis that it failed to identify any statements made by Angie’s List that qualified as commercial advertising or promotion within the meaning of the Lanham Act’s false advertising provision. Strauss contended the district court erred by analyzing his claims under the test adopted by the Tenth Circuit in Proctor & Gamble Co. v. Haugen, 222 F.3d 1262 (10th Cir. 2000) (adopting a four-part test for determining what constitutes commercial advertising or promotion). Finding no reversible error, however, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Strauss’ case. View "Strauss v. Angie's List" on Justia Law

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Automotive body shops filed suit against major automobile insurance companies, alleging claims for relief under the Sherman Act and state law based on the insurance companies' alleged anticompetive practices. The Eleventh Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to decide the merits of the Indiana and Utah appeals because the orders dismissing the first amended complaints became final judgments under Hertz Corporation v. Alamo Rent-ACar, Incorporated, 16 F.3d 1126 (11th Cir. 1994), when the deadline to amend expired. However, the court held that it had jurisdiction to review the order dismissing the Mississippi body shops’ antitrust claims. The court also held that the district court correctly dismissed the antitrust claims; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Mississippi body shops' motion to reconsider its dismissal of their antitrust claims; and the district court correctly dismissed most of the Mississippi body shops' claims under state law. Accordingly, the court vacated in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Automotive Alignment & Body Service, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Healthcare providers often do not purchase medical devices directly from the manufacturer; they join group purchasing organizations (GPOs), which negotiate prices with manufacturers. The provider chooses a distributor to deliver the product. The distributor enters into contracts with the provider and the manufacturer, incorporating the price and other terms that the GPO negotiated, plus a markup for the distributor. A GPO negotiated with Becton (a manufacturer) on the plaintiff-providers’ behalf; a distributor delivered the devices. Had Becton acted alone, selling its products to an independent distributor, which then sold them to a provider, the Supreme Court’s 1977 “Illinois Brick” rule would bar the provider from suing Becton for any alleged monopoly overcharges. Only buyers who purchased products directly from the antitrust violator have a claim for treble damages. The plaintiffs alleged that Becton, the GPOs, and the distributors were in a conspiracy and engaged in various anti-competitive measures, including exclusive-dealing and penalty provisions. Under Brick's conspiracy exception, when a monopolist enters into a conspiracy with its distributors “the first buyer from a conspirator is the right party to sue.” The district court found the conspiracy rule inapplicable because this case did not involve vertical price-fixing. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The relationship between the buyer and the seller, not the nature of the alleged anticompetitive conduct, governs whether the buyer may sue under the antitrust laws. Remand was required because the Providers have failed adequately to allege the necessary conspiracy. View "Marion HealthCare, LLC. v. Becton Dickinson & Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Osae and Scott Bader with respect to SciGrip's trade secrets claim, unfair and deceptive trade practices claim, and request for punitive damages and deciding the parties' motions with regard to SciGrip's breach of contract claims, holding that the trial court did not err. As to SciGrip's breach of contract claims, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of SciGrip with respect to its breach of contract claim against Osae for violating a consent judgment while he was employed by Bader and refused to grant summary judgment in favor of SciGrip or Osae with respect to sciGrip's claim for breach of contract against Osae for violating the consent judgment during his period of employment with another entity. Further, the court denied Osae's motion to preclude the admission of certain expert testimony proffered by SciGrip on mootness grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed after careful consideration of the parties' challenges to the court's order in light of the evidence in the record, holding that the trial court did not err. View "SciGrip, Inc. v. Osae" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs (Sharif Pharmacy, J&S) were members of the Prime pharmacy network, which is owned, in part, by Blue Cross Blue Shield. Under Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance plans, many patients had significant financial incentives to buy their prescription drugs from pharmacies within the network. Prime terminated both plaintiffs from the network after audits uncovered invoicing irregularities. The plaintiffs claimed that their terminations from the Prime network violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1 and 2. Three customers joined the suit, having had to switch to different, less convenient pharmacies. The plaintiffs alleged that the audits were pretextual and that Prime really terminated their participation in its network to get rid of competition with Walgreens, with whom it had entered a joint venture. Prime sent letters to both pharmacies’ customers saying that Sharif and J&S would no longer accept their insurance and recommending that customers have their prescriptions filled at a nearby Walgreens. Prime also retained funds from both pharmacies as a result of the audits. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissals of the cases by two district courts. The individual plaintiffs lacked standing. The pharmacy could not identify an appropriate geographic market where a defendant had or threatened to have monopoly power. View "Sharif Pharmacy Inc. v. Prime Therapeutics LLC" on Justia Law

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Viamedia sued Comcast under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, for using its monopoly power in one service market (Interconnect) to exclude competition and gain monopoly power in another service market (advertising representation) in the Chicago, Detroit, and Hartford geographic markets. Interconnect services are cooperative selling arrangements for advertising through an “Interconnect” that enables retail cable television service providers to sell advertising targeted efficiently at regional audiences. Advertising representation services assist those providers with the sale and delivery of national, regional, and local advertising slots. Viamedia’s evidence indicated Comcast used its monopoly power over the Interconnect to force its smaller retail cable television competitors to stop doing business with Viamedia; Viamedia’s customers for advertising representation (Comcast’s retail cable competitors) switched to Comcast because Comcast presented a choice: either start buying advertising representation services from us and regain access to the Interconnect or keep buying services from Viamedia and stay cut off from the Interconnect they needed to compete effectively. The strategy cost Comcast millions of dollars in the short run but eventually gave it monopoly power in these local markets for advertising representation services. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Viamedia’s case. Giving Viamedia the benefit of its allegations and evidence, this is not a case in which Section 2 is being misused to protect weaker competitors rather than competition more generally. Viamedia has also adequately stated a claim that Comcast has unlawfully refused to deal with Viamedia and any cable competitor that bought advertising representation from Viamedia. View "Viamedia, Inc. v. Comcast Corp." on Justia Law