Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

by
Ben-E-Lect, a third-party insurance claim administrator, developed a medical expense reimbursement plan; employers could buy a group policy of medical insurance with a high deductible and self-fund to pay for the healthcare expenses employees incurred within the annual deductible or any copay requirement. The practice of employers’ using such plans in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan is called “wrapping.” Ben-E-Lect was the state’s largest third-party administrator for small group employers who wrapped their employee medical policies. Anthem provides fully insured health plans to the California small group employer market. Beginning in 2006, Anthem announced a series of policies that limited wrapping. In 2014, Anthem prohibited wrapping all Anthem plans. Employer groups who used Anthem plans certified they would not wrap Anthem policies, and agents certified they would not advise employers to enter into any employer-sponsored wrapping plan. Ben-E-Lect sued Anthem. The court of appeal affirmed that Anthem’s policy to prohibit wrapping its health insurance products violated the Cartwright Act (Bus. & Prof. Code, 16700); interfered with Ben-E-Lect’s prospective business relationships; and was an illegal, coercive, vertical group boycott under the antitrust rule of reason (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200), because Anthem told its insurance agents that if they wrapped any Anthem policies they would be subject to termination loss of sales commissions. The court affirmed an award of $7.38 million and an injunction. The trial court considered sufficient evidence of market power and market injury. View "Ben-E-Lect v. Anthem Blue Cross Life and Health Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
U.S. organized amateur hockey leagues come under the purview of USA Hockey, Inc., which is subject to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. 220501–43. USA Hockey delegates most of its authority to state and regional affiliates. Since 1975, the Association has governed the sport in Illinois. Black Bear, which owns Illinois skating rinks, filed suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, alleging that the Association is monopolizing the sport. Black Bear does not claim to have paid monopoly prices, nor does it seek an order dissolving the Association and allowing free competition. It asked the district judge to order the Association to admit it as a member and permit it to sponsor a club and to pay damages for business losses suffered until these things occur. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The Sherman Act cannot be used to regulate cartels’ membership and profit-sharing. Members and potential members can enforce (or contest) its rules as a matter of state law, though a private group receives considerable leeway in the interpretation and application of those rules. View "Black Bear Sports Group, Inc. v. Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In a purported class action, egg purchasers claimed that egg producers conspired to inflate prices by early slaughtering of hens and similar supply-reducing steps; creation of an animal welfare certification program that was actually designed to reduce the egg supply; and coordinated exports of eggs, all as part of a single overarching conspiracy that was anti-competitive per se and unlawful under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. The defendants countered that the court should look at each alleged stratagem of the conspiracy separately and determine whether to apply the per se standard for antitrust liability or the more commonly-applied rule of reason. In summary judgment briefing, the parties focused on the Certification Program, which the court evaluated under the rule of reason. The case proceeded to trial with all three stratagems being evaluated under that standard. Following the jury’s verdict, the court entered judgment for the defendants. The Third Circuit affirmed. Courts can consider the different components of an alleged conspiracy separately when determining which mode of antitrust analysis to apply. The Certification Program was not an express horizontal agreement to reduce the supply of eggs, much less to fix prices and it is not clear that the Program would “have manifestly anticompetitive effects and lack any redeeming virtue.” It was properly analyzed under the rule of reason. View "In re: Processed Egg Products Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law

by
This case case arising out of the breakup of a limited partnership created to produce and market a new cement product the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals largely affirming the judgment of the trial court in favor of the limited partnership and a technology-supplying partner, holding that Plaintiffs failed to present legally sufficient evidence of damages and that the technology-supplying partner was not entitled to a permanent injunction for misappropriation of trade secrets. The partnership, its general partner, and the limited partner that supplied the cement-making technology sued the limited partners responsible for funding, the general manager of the partnership, and the companies that foreclosed on and purchased the partnership's assets. Defendants asserted counterclaims. The court of appeals largely affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) the damage awards were not supported by legally sufficient evidence; (2) the technology-supplying partner was not entitled to a permanent injunction for misappropriation of trade secrets; and (3) the company that purchased the partnership's assets and promissory note did not prove it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on its counterclaim for the partnership's failure to pay a deficiency balance on the note. View "Pike v. Texas EMC Management, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Inline filed suit against its competitor, Graphic, alleging antitrust and tortious interference claims related to the susceptor-packaging market.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Graphic, holding that the district court did not err concluding that there was no genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Graphic fraudulently procured patents on packaging concepts and designs through false claims of inventorship of the asserted patents and fraudulently concealed prior sales of drawing sample sleeves. In this case, Inline cannot establish that Graphic committed knowing and willful fraud and thus his monopolization claim under 15 U.S.C. 2 failed. Because Inline did not evidence fraud related to Graphic's procurement of the asserted patents and its prior sales of drawing sample sleeves 50019D/F, it has not established why the same set of facts and evidence would render Graphic's patent-infringement litigation objectively baseless. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the sham-litigation claim. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the discount-bundling claim because Inline failed to show that Graphic held sufficient monopoly or market power, and the district court adequately assessed the record and did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Inline's economic expert's untimely market opinion. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Inline's exclusive dealing claim and tortious interference claim. View "Inline Packaging, LLC v. Graphic Packaging International, LLC" on Justia Law

by
In this certiorari proceeding arising out of a lawsuit brought by condominium owners whose unit was nonjudicially foreclosed by their association of apartment owners the Supreme Court held that the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) erred in affirming the circuit court's dismissal of the unfair or deceptive acts of practices (UDAP) claim, holding that the Plaintiffs' UDAP claim should not have been dismissed. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against their association (Association), by and through its board of directors (Board), asserting wrongful foreclosure and UDAP claims based on the Board's nonjudicial foreclosure and public sale of their condominium apartment due to unpaid assessment fees. The circuit court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The ICA held that the circuit court (1) erred in dismissing Plaintiffs' wrongful foreclosure claim, and (2) correctly dismissed the UDAP claim as time-barred. The Supreme Court reversed as to the UDAP claim and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) the ICA correctly reinstated the wrongful foreclosure claim because the Board lacked a power of sale; and (2) based on the applicable notice pleading standard, viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, it cannot be said that Plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claim that would entitle them to relief. View "Malabe v. Ass'n of Apartment Owners of Executive Centre" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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