Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries
Wilson v. Gandis
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision in Wilson v. Gandis, Op. No. 2018-UP-078 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Feb. 7, 2018). David Wilson, John Gandis, and Andrea Comeau-Shirley (Shirley) are members of Carolina Custom Converting, LLC (CCC). Wilson filed suit against Gandis, Shirley and CCC, alleging they engaged in oppressive conduct against him. Wilson also brought a derivative action against CCC. Wilson sought a forced buyout of his membership interest by Gandis, Shirley, and CCC. CCC counterclaimed against Wilson, alleging Wilson misappropriated its trade secrets and communicated these secrets to Neologic Distribution, Inc. and to Fresh Water Systems, Inc. During a five-day bench trial, the trial court received over three hundred exhibits and heard testimony from ten witnesses. The trial court found Gandis and Shirley engaged in oppressive conduct and ordered them to individually purchase Wilson's distributional interest in CCC for $347,863.23. The trial court found in favor of Wilson on CCC's, Gandis', and Shirley's counterclaim for breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court also found in favor of Wilson, Neologic, and Fresh Water on CCC's trade secrets claim. CCC, Gandis, and Shirley appealed. In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court and adopted the trial court's order in its entirety. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed as modified the court of appeals' decision as to Wilson's claim for oppression, affirmed the court of appeals' decision as to Gandis' and Shirley's claim for breach of fiduciary duty, and affirmed the court of appeals' decision as CCC's claim for misappropriation of trade secrets. View "Wilson v. Gandis" on Justia Law
Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc.
The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing, for failure to state a claim, Plaintiff's complaint alleging that, by labeling Wesson brand vegetable oil (Wesson Oil) "100% Natural," Conagra Brands, Inc. violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, holding that Plaintiff's complaint clearly alleged a Chapter 93A injury for pleading purposes. After learning that Wesson Oil contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Plaintiff sued Conagra, the manufacturer and distributor, alleging that, by labeling the oil "100% Natural," Conagra violated Massachusetts's prohibition against unfair or deceptive trade practices. The federal district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, concluding that Wesson Oil's label was neither unfair nor deceptive because it conformed to the Food and Drug Administration's labeling policy. The First Circuit reversed, holding that Plaintiff's claim may proceed because Plaintiff plausibly alleged that a reasonable consumer might think that the phrase "100% Natural" means that a product contains no GMOs, and then base her purchasing decision on that belief. View "Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc." on Justia Law
Mississippi ex rel. Fitch v. Yazaki North America, Inc.
In 2012, the executives of several Japanese auto-parts manufacturers pled guilty to federal crimes based on an international scheme to fix the price of Automotive Wire Harness Systems (AWHS). Three years later, the State of Mississippi sued the American subsidiaries of these federally prosecuted companies, alleging violations of the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) and the Mississippi Antitrust Act (MAA), as well as a civil conspiracy to violate the MCPA and MAA. The trial court dismissed the State’s complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The State appealed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed: the alleged unfair trade practices were too remote in time to support the State’s claim for injunctive relief under the MCPA; the complaint alleged no “wholly intrastate” transactions that would make the alleged illegal cartel punishable under the MAA; and because the State alleged no viable claim for a statutory violation, its civil-conspiracy claim, based solely on the alleged statutory violations, also failed. View "Mississippi ex rel. Fitch v. Yazaki North America, Inc." on Justia Law
D&G, Inc. v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc.
D&G filed an antitrust suit against C&S, on behalf of all grocery retailers, alleging that C&S agreed with another grocery wholesaler, SuperValu, not to compete for customers in certain geographical areas. The jury returned a verdict in favor of C&S. The Eighth Circuit held that the jury instructions fairly and adequately submitted the issues and affirmed the judgment. The court explained that while it is true that an agreement to allocate either customers or territories could violate the Sherman Act, D&G's theory in this case melded the two. The court concluded that it was understandable and consistent with the evidence and arguments for the district court to instruct that D&G must prove that "C&S agreed that it would not compete with Supervalu for new customers in certain territories or geographic areas." Furthermore, the reference in the verdict form to "an Unwritten Agreement to divide territories and customers along geographic lines" is consistent with D&G's primary theory throughout the case—namely, that C&S and SuperValu agreed to allocate new customers in the Midwest to one company and new customers in New England to the other. Therefore, there was ample room under the jury instructions to find liability. Finally, the court was not convinced that the verdict form misled the jury. View "D&G, Inc. v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc." on Justia Law
In re: Lamictal Direct Purchaser Antitrust Litigation
GSK’s patent to an anti-epilepsy drug, Lamictal, was to expire in 2009. Teva sought to market a generic version of Lamictal, lamotrigine, before GSK’s patent expired. Teva submitted an Abbreviated New Drug Application. GSK sued for infringement. After Teva received a favorable ruling with respect to one claim in 2005, the parties settled. Teva would begin selling lamotrigine six months before it could have had GSK won but later than if it had succeeded in litigation. GSK promised not to launch an authorized generic (AG) version of Lamictal. Had the parties not settled and had Teva succeeded in litigation, it would have been entitled to a 180-day exclusivity period as the generic first filer but GSK could have launched an AG. Companies that directly purchased Lamictal or lamotrigine (Direct Purchasers) sued, claiming the settlement violated the antitrust laws because GSK “paid” Teva to stay out of the market by promising not to launch an AG, resulting in Direct Purchasers paying more than they would have otherwise. The district court certified a class of all companies that purchased Lamictal from GSK or lamotrigine from Teva. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court certified the class without undertaking the required “rigorous” analysis, failing to resolve key factual disputes, assess competing evidence, and weigh conflicting expert testimony, all of which bear heavily on the predominance requirement, and confused injury with damages. View "In re: Lamictal Direct Purchaser Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law
Bratton v. Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc. (SCL) on Cheryl Bratton's claims, holding that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to SCL. This case stemmed from SCL's practice of issuing refunds to its patients, for such reasons as overpayment on an account, in the form of prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued through Bank of America. Plaintiff brought this suit alleging, among other claims, constructive trust based on unjust enrichment, unfair trade practices under the Montana Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), money had and received, and declaratory judgment. During discovery, SCL asked Bank of America to issue checks to Bratton for her refunds, which Bank of America did. The district court granted summary judgment for SCL. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to SCL on Bratton's claims and by denying Bratton's cross motions for summary judgment. View "Bratton v. Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc." on Justia Law
Sonterra Capital Master Fund Ltd. v. UBS AG
The Second Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Sherman Act, RICO Act, and common-law claims against defendants for lack of Article III standing. Plaintiffs are a group of investment funds and defendants are a collection of financial institutions. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from a scheme to fix the benchmark interest rates used to price financial derivatives in the Yen currency market. The court held that plaintiffs alleged an injury in fact sufficient for Article III standing, because plaintiffs plausibly alleged that defendants' conduct caused them to suffer economic injury. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that they entered into financial agreements on unfavorable terms because defendants manipulated benchmark rates in their own favor. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Sonterra Capital Master Fund Ltd. v. UBS AG" on Justia Law
Uber Technologies Pricing Cases
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
U.S. Futures Exchange, L.L.C. v. Board of Trade of the City of Chicago
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
Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Hass
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