Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

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In the Automotive Parts Antitrust multi-district litigation, a subset of consumers and businesses (End-Payor Plaintiffs), alleged that automotive-part manufacturers fixed prices in violation of antitrust laws and that they paid elevated prices for defendants’ parts or purchased or leased vehicles containing those parts. After eight years of motions, negotiations, approval hearings, and objections, the district court granted final approval to settlements between End-Payor Plaintiffs and defendants. The settlement agreements, the class notices, and plans of allocation for each settlement agreement defined the classes of plaintiffs to include consumers and businesses that bought or leased certain qualifying vehicles or paid to replace certain qualifying vehicle parts during designated time periods. The class definitions did not include insurers, assignees, or subrogees.FRS, a third-party company that manages and files claims for clients, later submitted claims on behalf of insurers that purchased or leased eligible vehicles for company use (Fleet Vehicles) and claims that are based on its clients’ claimed “subrogation rights” to class members’ claims. The district court denied FRS’s motion to intervene as untimely. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. FRS offers no legitimate excuse for failing to intervene after End-Payor Plaintiffs repeatedly expressed their adverse position; the district court alerted FRS to a deficient filing. End-Payor Plaintiffs would have suffered delay-related prejudice had the district court allowed intervention. View "Automotive Parts Antitrust Litig." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed a judgment entered in district court following a jury trial, convicting him of conspiracy to restrain trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred by failing to consider his proffered evidence that the illegal trading activity lacked anticompetitive effects and had procompetitive benefits and by refusing to conduct a pre-trial assessment as to whether the per se rule or the rule of reason applies. He further contended that the district court abused its discretion in precluding his competitive effects evidence from admission at trial and in conducting only a limited post-trial inquiry into juror misconduct.   The Second Circuit affirmed the ruling, concluding that the district court was not required to make a threshold pre-trial determination as to whether the per se rule or the rule of reason applies to the alleged misconduct in this case. The court reasoned that the grand jury indicted Defendant for a per se antitrust violation and the government was entitled to present its case to the jury. The district court properly assessed the sufficiency of the evidence of the alleged per se violation and the sufficiency decision upholding the verdict is not challenged on appeal. In addition, the district court acted within its broad discretion in strictly limiting the admission of Defendant’s competitive effects evidence at trial. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in ending its post-trial investigation into alleged juror misconduct. View "United States v. Aiyer" on Justia Law

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Host operates airport concessions. MarketPlace is the landlord at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). After competitive bidding, Host won PHL concession spots, planning to open a coffee shop and a restaurant. MarketPlace insisted on a lease term allowing it to grant “third-parties exclusive or semi-exclusive rights to be sole providers" of certain foods and beverages, including a “pouring-rights agreement” (PRA), “granting a beverage manufacturer, bottler, distributor or other company (e.g., Pepsi or Coca-Cola) the exclusive control over beverage products advertised, sold and served at [PHL].”Host abandoned the deal and sued, alleging that MarketPlace would receive payoffs from a “big soda company” courtesy of an exclusive PRA. The complaint alleged an unlawful tying arrangement and an illegal conspiracy and agreement in restraint of trade, in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. The district court dismissed the case with prejudice, finding Host failed to adequately plead a relevant geographic market. The Third Circuit affirmed. Host lacks antitrust standing and has not adequately pled a violation of the Sherman Act. Host alleged harm only to itself; failure to secure preferred contractual terms is not an antitrust injury. Host was not being forced to purchase any product. MarketPlace’s control over the non-alcoholic beverage suppliers at PHL does not stem from market power but from its role as a landlord. View "Host International Inc v. MarketPlace PHL LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition sought by Thornhill Motor Care, Inc. to prevent the Circuit Court of Mingo County from enforcing its order denying Petitioner's motion to dismiss based on improper venue, holding that Thornhill established that it was entitled to the writ.Moore Chrysler, Inc. brought this action against Thornhill in Mingo County, alleging violations of W. Va. Code 17A-6A-1 to -18 and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Thornhill moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to W. Va. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3) on the basis of improper venue, asserting that the proper venue for this lawsuit was in Logan County pursuant to the general venue statute, W. Va. Code 56-1-1. The circuit court denied the motion, basing its ruling on a specific venue statute, W. Va. Code 17A-6A-12(3), which governs declaratory judgment actions brought by new motor vehicle dealers against manufacturers or distributors. Thornhill then sought the writ of prohibition at issue. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the circuit court committed clear legal error in applying section 17A-6A-12(3) rather than section 56-1-1. View "Thornhill Motor Car, Inc. v. Honorable Miki Thompson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff challenged the National Association of Realtors’ ("NAR") Clear Cooperation Policy, which required members of a NAR-affiliated multiple listing service who chose to list properties on the Plaintiff’s real estate database also to list those properties on an MLS. The district court dismissed on the ground that Plaintiff did not, and could not, adequately allege antitrust injury under Section 1 of the Sherman Act or California’s Cartwright Act because it did not allege harm to home buyers and sellers.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of an action brought by Plaintiff alleging that its competitors in the real estate network services market violated antitrust laws because they conspired to take anti-competitive measures to prevent Plaintiffs from gaining a foothold in the market. The court held that Plaintiff adequately alleged a violation of Sherman Act Section 1, which prohibits a contract, combination, or conspiracy that unreasonably restrains trade. The court held that Plaintiff adequately alleged that the Clear Cooperation Policy was an unreasonable restraint of trade because it was a per se group boycott, but the court left it to the district court to determine in the first instance whether it should apply per se or rule of reason analysis at later stages in the litigation. View "THE PLS.COM, LLC V. NAR" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's judgment for Plaintiff, a cardiovascular surgeon who sued Defendant, a hospital and Plaintiff's former employer, for engaging in a retaliatory "whisper campaign" against him, holding that the lower courts erred.After leaving the employment of Defendant for a new rival, Plaintiff brought this complaint alleging that Defendant used faulty data on his patients' mortality rates to suppress competition and injure his reputation and practice. The jury rejected Plaintiff's anticompetition claims but concluded that the hospital had defamed him and disparaged his professional association. The trial court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff, and the court of appeals affirmed. At issue on appeal was how a reasonable juror would interpret the charge that was given for the defamation and business disparagement claims. The Supreme Court held (1) the plain text of the charge must be given its commonsense meaning in the context of the case; and (2) the trial court erred in awarding Plaintiff damages for defamation and business disparagement. View "Memorial Hermann Health System v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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A dentist, his professional corporation, and a teledentistry company (collectively "Plaintiffs") alleged that the Dental Board of California conspired to harass them with unfounded investigations. Plaintiffs alleged that the harassment arose after they developed an online service model for patients.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ claims under the Dormant Commerce Clause. The court reasoned that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged Article III standing because they alleged an injury that was traceable to Defendants’ challenged conduct. Further, the court found that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged anticompetitive concerted action. The court rejected the proposition that regulatory board members and employees cannot form an anticompetitive conspiracy.   Further, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ claim that Defendants subjected them to disparate treatment in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The court explained that a class-of-one plaintiff must be similarly situated to the proposed comparator. Here, Plaintiffs did not meet this standard because instead of claiming they stood the same as others, they touted their differences.   The court did not review the lower court’s denial of state-action immunity. View "JEFFREY SULITZER V. JOSEPH TIPPINS" on Justia Law

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The jury returned a verdict against Swisher International, Inc., on Sherman Act and breach of contract claims brought by Trendsettah USA, Inc.Reversing in part, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in granting Swisher’s Rule 60(d) motion based on fraud on the court. The court held that fraud on the court must be established by clear and convincing evidence. The relevant inquiry is whether the fraudulent conduct harmed the integrity of the judicial process rather than whether it prejudiced the opposing party. A party must show willful deception, and mere nondisclosure of evidence is typically not enough to constitute fraud on the court. The court concluded that Swisher presented no clear and convincing evidence that either Trendsettah or its attorneys were responsible for an intentional, material misrepresentation directly aimed at the district court. The court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Trendsettah’s breach of contract claims and remanded with instructions to reinstate the jury’s verdict on those claims.The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting Swisher’s motion for relief from judgment premised on newly discovered evidence and fraud under Rule 60(b)(2) and (b)(3), concerning Trendsettah’s antitrust claims. The court held that the Rule 60(b) motion was timely under Rule 60(c)(1)’s one-year limitation period, which restarted because the prior appellate decision substantially altered the district court’s judgment. The court concluded that Swisher met the standard for relief from judgment because Trendsettah’s tax evasion was relevant to antitrust liability and damages. View "TRENDSETTAH USA, INC. V. SWISHER INTERNATIONAL, INC." on Justia Law

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The state sued several oil and gas firms alleging their participation in a multiyear conspiracy to manipulate the California gasoline market to the detriment of California consumers. The complaint alleged violations of the Cartwright Act, Business and Professions Code section 16720, and the Unfair Competition Law, section 17200.Defendant SK Trading, a South Korean corporation, sought a writ of mandate to compel the trial court to reverse its order denying its motion to quash service of the summons for lack of personal jurisdiction. SK argued that its limited contacts with California were insufficient to support the court’s exercise of specific personal jurisdiction. The court of appeal denied the petition. SK Trading’s contacts with California supported the court’s exercise of specific personal jurisdiction; it purposefully engaged in activities that should have led it to reasonably anticipate being required to defend those activities in California legal proceedings. SK Trading has not established that the assumption of jurisdiction over it is unfair or unreasonable. There was evidence that SK Trading controlled and facilitated key aspects of the alleged conspiracy. The operative facts of the controversy are related to that contact with this state. View "SK Trading International Co. Ltd. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Johnson & Johnson, Ethicon, Inc., and Ethicon US, LLC (collectively, Ethicon) appealed after a trial court levied nearly $344 million in civil penalties against Ethicon for willfully circulating misleading medical device instructions and marketing communications that misstated, minimized, and/or omitted the health risks of Ethicon’s surgically-implantable transvaginal pelvic mesh products. The court found Ethicon committed 153,351 violations of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL), and 121,844 violations of the False Advertising Law (FAL). The court imposed a $1,250 civil penalty for each violation. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in just one respect: in addition to penalizing Ethicon for its medical device instructions and printed marketing communications, the court penalized Ethicon for its oral marketing communications, specifically, for deceptive statements Ethicon purportedly made during one-on-one conversations with doctors, at Ethicon-sponsored lunch events, and at health fair events. However, there was no evidence of what Ethicon’s employees and agents actually said in any of these oral marketing communications. Therefore, the Court of Appeal concluded substantial evidence did not support the trial court’s factual finding that Ethicon’s oral marketing communications were likely to deceive doctors. Judgment was amended to strike the nearly $42 million in civil penalties that were imposed for these communications. View "California v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law