Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

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Appellants Area 55, LLC, and SAB Holdings, LLC appealed a trial court order granting the special motion to strike their first amended complaint for malicious prosecution and the related judgment of dismissal in favor of Respondents Nicholas & Tomasevic, LLP (N&T), Craig Nicholas, and Alex Tomasevic. Appellants included the successors to Vinturi, Inc. (Vinturi), which developed and sold the “ ‘Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator’ for wine-lovers who want to enhance their experience of drinking wine.” Vinturi started selling the Vinturi Aerator in 2006. As sold to the public, the box contained the Vinturi body with a decorative black silicone band, a rubber stand, and a filter screen -- parts all made in China, transported to the United States, and assembled in the United States. From 2006 until 2010, Vinturi sold its aerator in the United States with the statement “ ‘VINTURI IS MANUFACTURED IN THE USA’ ” printed on the bottom panel of the box. Attorney Nicholas filed various consumer fraud claims, challenging Appellants claim the aerator was made in the U.S. when the components were made in China. Appellants were successful in getting two class action cases dismissed. In 2018, Appellants filed the present case for malicious prosecution, resulting in the grant of Respondents' "SLAPP" motion on appeal. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in ruling that Appellants could not establish the prior action was not terminated on its merits. "Thus, for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute, the court erred in ruling that Appellants did not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits of their malicious prosecution claim." In addition, in its de novo review, the Court exercised discretion to reach the additional issues raised by the parties in the motion and opposition: Appellants made a sufficient prima facie showing of the remaining elements of their claim, and Respondents did not defeat Appellants’ claim as a matter of law. Accordingly, the order granting Respondents’ special motion to strike the complaint was vacated and reversed. On remand, the trial court was directed to enter a new and different order denying Respondents’ special motion. View "Area 55 v. Nicholas & Tomasevic" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Federal Trade Commission's "single document rule," promulgated under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. 2301-2312, does not require the disclosure of a binding arbitration agreement.Petitioner bought a truck from Respondent. The parties' retail purchase order included a binding arbitration agreement for any dispute related to the truck's purchase. Petitioner eventually filed suit under the Act, and Respondent successfully moved to compel arbitration. Petitioner appealed, arguing that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable because it was not disclosed in a single document with other warranty terms, in violation of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) single document rule. The Fifth District affirmed, holding that a binding arbitration agreement is not an item covered by the single document rule's disclosure requirements. The Supreme Court approved the Fifth District's decision, holding that the existence of a binding arbitration agreement is not among the disclosures required by the FTC's single document rule. View "Krol v. FCA US, LLC" on Justia Law

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GPI and Foodbuy were engaged in a non-exclusive commercial relationship, which was memorialized in a supplier agreement. Foodbuy subsequently filed suit against GPI alleging, among other claims, breach of contract for overcharging its Committed Customers. GPI counterclaimed, asserting, in relevant part, breach of contract for over-invoicing and violations of North Carolina's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA). The district court held that the Agreement's terms were unambiguous, and, under its plain language, required GPI to pay a volume allowance only for purchases made through Foodbuy's program (and thus at Foodbuy's price). In the alternative, the district court determined that should the Agreement's terms be found to be ambiguous, the same result would follow because the various methods of contract interpretation pointed to the same conclusion.The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that Foodbuy failed to show that it suffered any individualized harm as a result of GPI's alleged failure to sell its products to Committed Customers at the correct pre-determined prices under the Agreement. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Foodbuy's overcharging claim for lack of standing. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Foodbuy's motion in limine to exclude GPI's damages calculation, and in denying Foodbuy's request for leave to amend its answer to conform to the evidence. The court noted that the proper framework for resolving the breach of contract claim involves the tools for interpreting ambiguous contracts. In this case, the district court undertook that analysis in its alternative holding wherein it concluded that the parties' intent was to require GPI to pay a volume allowance on only those purchases made through the Foodbuy program at the negotiated price. Because Foodbuy failed to present any argument in its opening brief taking issue with this facet of the district court's alternative holding, even though the court found the Agreement to be ambiguous, Foodbuy has waived any challenge to the district court's judgment on that ground. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's interpretation of the Agreement. However, the district court wrongly denied GPI's cross-claim alleging violations of the UDTPA. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded on this issue. View "Foodbuy, LLC v. Gregory Packaging, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, of Axon's action alleging that the FTC's administrative enforcement process violated the company's constitutional rights. In this case, the FTC investigated and filed an administrative complaint challenging Axon's acquisition of a competitor, demanding that Axon spin-off its newly acquired company and provide it with Axon's own intellectual property. The district court dismissed the complaint after determining that the FTC's statutory scheme requires Axon to raise its constitutional challenge first in the administrative proceeding.The panel held that the Supreme Court's Thunder Basin trilogy of cases mandates dismissal. The panel explained that the structure of the Federal Trade Commission Act suggests that Congress impliedly barred jurisdiction in district court and required parties to move forward first in the agency proceeding. Because the FTC statutory scheme ultimately allows Axon to present its constitutional challenges to a federal court of appeals after the administrative proceeding, the panel concluded that Axon has not suffered any cognizable harm. Therefore, the panel joined every other circuit that has addressed a similar issue in ruling that Congress impliedly stripped the district court of jurisdiction. View "Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law

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After VA Medical Center selected Metro Health's bid on the condition that Metro Health could obtain a permit from the City to operate emergency medical services (EMS) vehicles, the City refused to grant Metro Health a permit. Metro Health then filed suit against the City and RAA, alleging violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case with prejudice, agreeing with the district court that defendants were entitled to immunity from federal antitrust liability where they acted pursuant to a clearly articulated state policy. Furthermore, federal law does not preempt their actions. The court rejected Metro Health's contention that by thwarting the VA Medical Center's competitive bidding process, the City and RAA have violated the Supremacy Clause. The court explained that, where, as here, a federal agency, of its own volition, imposes a contract condition consistent with federal law, the Supremacy Clause is not implicated. View "Western Star Hospital Authority, Inc. v. City of Richmond" on Justia Law

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Shah, a board-certified pediatric anesthesiology specialist, joined STAR, which became the exclusive provider of anesthesia services at several San Antonio-area acute-care hospitals, including NCB. BHS guaranteed STAR $500,000 in collections for pediatric anesthesia services provided at NCB. In 2012, STAR became the exclusive provider of anesthesia services at four BHS hospitals. Shah was not a party to the 2012 agreement, nor was he named in the pediatric income guarantee but he continued to practice as a STAR pediatric anesthesiologist, becoming the primary beneficiary of STAR’s guaranteed collections. In 2016, STAR and BHS amended the 2012 agreement, eliminating the pediatric income guarantee. The exclusivity provision remained. STAR terminated its relationship with Shah. Shah could no longer provide pediatric anesthesia services at NCB or any other BHS facility included in the exclusivity agreement. Shah requested authorization to provide pediatric anesthesia care at NCB; BHS responded that Shah’s reappointment to the Medical Staff of BHS and his privileges were approved but the exclusivity provision precluded Shah from providing pediatric anesthesia services at six BHS facilities (including NCB). After unsuccessfully suing STAR in Texas state court, Shah sued under the Sherman Act.The Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the BHS parties. Shah’s definition of the relevant market is insufficient as a matter of law; it does not encompass all interchangeable substitute products because it does not include the two non-BHS facilities that the BHS parties contend serve as viable alternatives to BHS facilities. View "Shah v. VHS San Antonio Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this dispute in which Plaintiffs sought reimbursement for healthcare costs based upon claims for restraint of trade and monopolization pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. Chapter 75 and N.C. Const. art. I, 34, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the trial court deciding issues arising from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority's motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that the trial court erred in part.Plaintiffs were a group of current and former North Carolina residents who were covered under the commercial health insurance obtained through the Hospital Authority, a non-profit corporation providing healthcare services with a principal place of business in Charlotte. The trial court granted the Hospital Authority's motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to Plaintiffs' restraint of trade and monopolization claims but denied the motion with respect to Plaintiffs' monopolization claim. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the trial court (1) did not err in granting judgment on the pleadings with respect to Plaintiffs' Chapter 75 restraint of trade and monopolization claims; but (2) erred by denying the motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to Plaintiffs' claim pursuant to article I, section 34. View "DiCesare v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hosp. Auth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's judgment concluding that Green Thumb did not violate Ohio's Deceptive Trade Practices Act, holding that Wooster Floral & Gifts, LLC failed to demonstrate that Green Thumb Floral & Garden Center, Inc.'s use of the domain name www.woosterfloral.com caused a likelihood of confusion as to the source of goods sold on the website.Green Thumb owned the domain name www.woosterfloral.com. Wooster Floral & Gifts, a competing flower shop, brought this lawsuit under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act seeking to block Green Thumb from using the address. The trial court ruled in favor of Green Thumb, finding that Green Thumb's use of the domain name was unlikely to cause confusion as to the source of goods or services because the home page was clearly identified as "Green Thumb Floral" and there was no use of the trade name "Wooster Floral" within the website. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under both federal precedent and the plain terms of the Ohio statute, a consumer landing on Green Thumb's website was unlikely to be confused about the entity that would be fulfilling the consumer's order. View "Wooster Floral & Gifts, LLC v. Green Thumb Floral & Garden Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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AndroGel, a testosterone replacement therapy, generated billions of dollars in sales, The Federal Trade Commission sued the owners of an AndroGel patent under Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 21 U.S.C. 301, alleging that they filed sham patent infringement suits against Teva and Perrigo and entered into an anticompetitive reverse-payment agreement with Teva. The FTC accused the defendants of trying to monopolize and restrain trade over AndroGel. The District Court dismissed the FTC’s claims to the extent they relied on a reverse-payment theory but found the defendants liable for monopolization on the sham-litigation theory. The court ordered the defendants to disgorge $448 million in profits but denied the FTC’s request for an injunction.The Third Circuit reversed in part. The district court erred by rejecting the reverse-payment theory and in concluding that the defendants’ litigation against Teva was a sham. The court did not err in concluding the Perrigo litigation was a sham and that the defendants had monopoly power in the relevant market. The FTC has not shown that monopolization entitles it to any remedy. The court did not abuse its discretion in denying injunctive relief. The court erred by ordering disgorgement because that remedy is unavailable under Section 13(b). View "Federal Trade Commission v. AbbVie Inc" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court considered a question certified by the circuit court and answered that the deceptive trade practices provisions of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act (the Act), W. Va. Code 46A-6-101 to -106, do not apply to educational and recreational services offered by a religious institution.The Attorney General sued the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Michael Bransfield, in his capacity as former bishop of the Diocese, alleging (1) the Diocese knowingly employed persons who admitted to sexually abusing others or who were credibly accused of sexual abuse at its camps and schools, and (2) by misrepresenting or hiding that danger, the Diocese violated the deceptive practices provisions of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act. The circuit court dismissed the Attorney General's claims but stayed its order and certified a question of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding that the deceptive practices provisions of the Act do not apply to educational and recreational services offered by a religious institution. View "State ex rel. Morrisey v. Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston" on Justia Law