Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries
Louisiana Real Estate Appraisers Board v. Federal Trade Commission
The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's order staying administrative proceedings that were initiated by the FTC against the Board under the Federal Trade Commission Act. The district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over the Board's lawsuit because the Act vests exclusive jurisdiction to review challenges to Commission proceedings in the courts of appeals.The court held that, even if the Act does not preclude the Administrative Procedure Act's default review provision, 5 U.S.C. 704,—an issue the court need not address—the Board fails to meet Section 704's jurisdictional prerequisites. The court explained that case law does not support jurisdiction based on the collateral order doctrine as applied through Section 704. In this case, the issues relevant to immunity pertain to the reach of the Sherman Act and thus a judicial decision at this point would not resolve an issue completely separate from the merits of the action. Therefore, the April 10, 2018 order does not constitute final agency action under Section 704, and the collateral order doctrine does not apply. View "Louisiana Real Estate Appraisers Board v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law
Flagship Theatres of Palm Desert, LLC v. Century Theatres, Inc.
In this antitrust dispute involving licensing of motion pictures to movie theaters for public exhibition, Flagship obtained a jury verdict against Century. Flagship owned the Palme d'Or theater and Century owned The River theater. The jury found true Flagship's allegations that Century had engaged in "circuit dealing" by entering into licensing agreements with film distributors that covered licenses to play films not just at The River, but at multiple other Century-owned theaters as well, and using these agreements to pressure distributors into refusing to license films to Palme d'Or.The Court of Appeal agreed with Century that Flagship did not present substantial evidence of anticompetitive effects in the relevant market. The court also agreed with Century that this failure of proof warrants reversal, as circuit dealing based on multi-theater licensing agreements is not per se illegal under the Cartwright Act. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment and need not reach Century's remaining arguments on appeal. The court also did not need to address Flagship's case from the court's postjudgment order awarding Flagship attorney fees in an amount lower than Flagship had requested. View "Flagship Theatres of Palm Desert, LLC v. Century Theatres, Inc." on Justia Law
In re: Allergan ERISA Litigation
The plaintiffs are participants in the Allergan Savings and Investment Plan, which provides various investment options, including an employee stock ownership feature for buying Allergan stock. According to the plaintiffs, the defendants were Plan fiduciaries and owed them commensurate duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). They claim that, although the public was unaware, the defendants knew or should have known that, before the divestiture of its generic-drug business, Allergan had conspired with other generic-drug manufacturers to fix prices, thereby artificially boosting its financial performance and its stock price. The plaintiffs cited inquiries from members of Congress and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, seeking information about large price increases in certain generic drugs. The plaintiffs do not allege that Allergan was ever charged in connection with the investigation but claim that the defendants’ failure to remove Allergan stock as a Plan investment option or otherwise take action to protect Plan participants, violated ERISA.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Even viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the well-pled factual allegations fail to support a plausible inference that Allergan conspired with competitors to fix prices. Because all of the plaintiffs’ causes of action ultimately rest on the premise that the defendants knew or should have known about that supposed illegal conduct, the absence of allegations sufficient to support the existence of it is fatal to each of their claims. View "In re: Allergan ERISA Litigation" on Justia Law
Aerotek v. Johnson Group Staffing Co.
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
PNE Energy Supply LLC v. Eversource Energy
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
Flagship Theatres of Palm Desert, LLC v. Century Theatres, Inc.
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
Hanna v. Little League Baseball
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
Federal Trade Commission v. Qualcomm Inc.
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
Craft Smith v. EC Design
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
SmileDirectClub, LLC v. Battle
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