Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Antitrust & Trade Regulation
Geomatrix, LLC v. NSF International
Septic systems comprise a septic tank that isolates and contains the sewage; the remaining wastewater flows through a drain field, where microorganisms treat it. Customers have two options for private septic systems—aerobic treatment units (contained systems), or soil-based/open-bottom treatment systems (T&D systems). Geomatrix markets and sells a T&D system, while many of its competitors sell contained systems.Since 1970, NSF has offered certification for the wastewater treatment industry, A manufacturer needs to obtain certification before marketing products in at least 37 states. This standard is developed through a voluntary consensus process, overseen by a joint committee staffed by NSF employees, state regulatory officers, industry manufacturers, and consumers. Geomatrix obtained certification. Geomatrix alleges that competitors then began conspiring against T&D systems, questioning whether T&D systems should be entitled to certification and disparaging the efficacy of T&D systems. The alleged conspiracy affected Geomatrix’s business by preventing it from obtaining state regulatory approval, although its certification should have made it possible to do so. Ultimately, Geomatrix withdrew its NSF certification. NSF has not adopted a new standard; discussions remain ongoing.Geomatrix filed suit, alleging violations of the Sherman Act and the Lanham Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The defendants’ petitioning activity was immunized under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. Geomatrix failed to show the proximate cause required for its unfair competition claims, and its promissory estoppel claims were based on statements that did not state a sufficiently definite promise. View "Geomatrix, LLC v. NSF International" on Justia Law
Truesdell v. Friedlander
Legacy, a small family-owned business, provides nonemergency ambulance services in several Ohio counties that border Kentucky. After receiving many inquiries from Kentucky hospitals and nursing homes, Legacy sought to expand into the Commonwealth. Kentucky required Legacy to apply for a “certificate of need” with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Existing ambulance providers objected to Legacy’s request. The Cabinet denied Legacy’s application partly on the ground that these providers offered an adequate supply. Legacy sued, alleging that Kentucky’s certificate-of-need law violated the “dormant” or “negative” part of the Commerce Clause.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to Legacy’s request to offer intrastate ambulance transportation in Kentucky. Under the modern approach to the dormant Commerce Clause, a law’s validity largely depends on whether it discriminates against out-of-state businesses in favor of in-state ones. Legacy’s evidence suggests that the state’s limits will harm Kentucky’s own “consumers.” It has not shown a “substantial harm” to interstate commerce. The court reversed with respect to Legacy’s request to offer interstate ambulance transportation between Kentucky and Ohio. States may not deny a common carrier a license to provide interstate transportation on the ground that the interstate market contains an “adequate” supply. The bright-line rule barring states from obstructing interstate “competition” does require a finding that a state has discriminated against out-of-state entities. View "Truesdell v. Friedlander" on Justia Law
Andren v. Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation End User Consumer Plaintiff Class
Three sets of plaintiffs alleged price fixing in the broiler chicken market, including a class of end users–persons and entities who indirectly purchased certain types of broilers from the defendants or alleged co-conspirators for personal consumption in certain jurisdictions during the class period. This class settled their claims with a subset of the defendants for $181 million. The district court entered judgment (FRCP 54(b)) as to the settling parties. Class counsel was awarded one-third of the settlement—excluding expenses and incentive awards— $57.4 million. Class member Andren argued the court erred in discounting bids made by class counsel in auctions in other cases; in suggesting the Seventh Circuit has rejected the use of declining fee scale award structures; and in crediting expert reports. In setting the fee award, the district court considered actual agreements between the parties and fee agreements reached in the market for legal services, the risk of nonpayment at the outset of the case and class counsel’s performance, and fee awards in comparable cases.The Seventh Circuit vacated the award. Under Seventh Circuit law, the district court’s task was to award fees in accord with a hypothetical “ex-ante bargain.” In doing so, the court did not consider bids made by class counsel in auctions in other cases as well as out-of-circuit fee awards. View "Andren v. Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation End User Consumer Plaintiff Class" on Justia Law
Allstate Insurance Co. v. Fougere
The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court entering summary judgment in favor of Allstate Insurance Company and dismissing the counterclaims brought by two of Allstate's former agents - James Fougere and Sarah Brody-Isbill - and A Better Insurance Agency, Inc. (ABIA) (collectively, Appellants), holding that there was no error.At issue in the underlying case were spreadsheets that Allstate alleged contained trade secrets misappropriated by Brody-Isbill and Fougere, thus breaching their contracts with Allstate. Allstate filed suit alleging claims for, among other things, breach of contract and trade secrets, violations of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, 28 U.S.C. 1836. Appellants counterclaimed, alleging claims for, inter alia, wrongful interference with contractual relations and violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. The district court granted summary judgment for Allstate and dismissed Appellants' counterclaims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in dismissing Appellants' counterclaims; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in granting summary judgment to Allstate on liability for its trade secret and contract claims against Appellants. View "Allstate Insurance Co. v. Fougere" on Justia Law
Federal Trade Commission v. National Urological Group, Inc., et al.
Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Jared Wheat, and Stephen Smith appealed the district court’s denial of their request for relief from contempt sanctions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued them for violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act, alleging they had misrepresented their weight-loss products to consumers. The agency sought equitable monetary remedies and an injunction against future unlawful trade practices. The district court granted injunctive relief and ordered them to pay $16 million in equitable monetary relief. Years later, the district court found that they had violated the injunction, held them in civil contempt, and ordered them to pay an additional $40 million in contempt sanctions. Before the $40 million contempt judgment was collected, the United States Supreme Court decided AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission. Invoking Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), Defendants returned to the district court to request relief from the contempt judgment, arguing that continued enforcement of the judgment was no longer equitable after AMG. The district court denied the motion. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying relief under Rule 60(b)(5). The court explained that because AMG did not address the district court’s inherent authority to sanction contempt, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendants’ request for relief under Rule 60(b)(5). Further, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying relief under Rule 60(b)(6). The court reasoned that Defendants have failed to show extraordinary circumstances justifying relief under Rule 60(b)(6). View "Federal Trade Commission v. National Urological Group, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Winn Dixie Stores v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative Inc
Winn-Dixie sued EMMC, its individual farmer members, and certain downstream distributors claiming their price-fixing agreement violated the Sherman Act. 15 U.S.C. 1. EMMC, a cooperative of mushroom growers, targets the Eastern United States. Initially, EMMC controlled over 90 percent of the supply of fresh Agaricus mushrooms in the relevant market. That share fell to 58% percent by 2005, and 17% percent by 2010. EMMC’s 20-plus initial members shrunk to fewer than five. EMMC’s stated purpose was to establish a “Minimum Pricing Policy,” under which it would “circulat[e] minimum price lists” along with rules requiring the member companies to uniformly charge those prices to all customers. Those minimums were not the price at which growers sold the product, but the price at which EMMC members hoped to coerce downstream distributors to go to market. Certain members were grower-only entities, lacking an exclusive relationship with any distributor. Many members partnered with specific, often legally-related downstream distributors. The precise nature of these relationships varied widely but downstream distributors were prohibited from joining EMMC.The district court instructed the jury to apply the “rule-of-reason” test. The Third Circuit affirmed a verdict in EMMC’s favor. Winn-Dixie argued that the judge should have instructed the jury to presume anticompetitive effects. Because this hybrid scheme involved myriad organizational structures with varying degrees of vertical integration, the court correctly applied the rule of reason. Under that more searching inquiry, the evidence was sufficient to sustain the verdict. View "Winn Dixie Stores v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative Inc" on Justia Law
Turner v. McDonald’s USA LLC
Until recently, under every McDonald’s franchise agreement, the franchise operator promised not to hire any person employed by a different franchise, or by McDonald’s itself, until six months after the last date that person had worked for McDonald’s or another franchise. A related clause barred one franchisee from soliciting another’s employee (anti-poach clauses). In a suit under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, the plaintiffs worked for McDonald’s franchises while these clauses were in force and were unable to take higher-paying offers at other franchises. They contend that the anti-poach clause violated the antitrust laws.The district court dismissed, rejecting plaintiffs’ “per se” theory, stating that the anti-poach clause is not a “naked” restraint on trade but is ancillary to each franchise agreement—and, as every new restaurant expands output, the restraint was justified. The court deemed the complaint deficient under the Rule of Reason because it does not allege that McDonald’s and its franchises collectively have power in the market for restaurant workers’ labor.The Seventh Circuit. The complaint alleges a horizontal restraint; market power is not essential to antitrust claims involving naked agreements among competitors. The court noted that there are many potentially complex questions, which cannot be answered by looking at the language of the complaint but require careful economic analysis. View "Turner v. McDonald's USA LLC" on Justia Law
FTC v. Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.
In this case, the Federal Trade Commission appeals the district court’s dismissal of claims against pharmaceutical manufacturers for violations of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act. The district court dismissed the action against Appellees Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Endo), its parent, Endo International plc (Endo International), Impax Laboratories, LLC (Impax), and its parent, Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Amneal) (collectively Appellees) for failure to state a claim because a single patentee granting an exclusive license is conduct protected and allowed under the Patent Act. 35 U.S.C. 261;The D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the Commission’s claims. The court concluded that the resolution of the case came down to the following question: Does a valid patent holder’s grant of a nearly exclusive license to a single potential competitor in exchange for royalty payments violate antitrust law when that nearly exclusive license restrains trade only to an extent traditionally recognized by patent law as reasonable? The court answered the question in the negative, holding that under FTC v. Actavis, Inc., when a complaint alleges that a patent holder has violated the antitrust laws, courts must strike a balance “between the lawful restraint on trade of the patent monopoly and the illegal restraint prohibited broadly by the Sherman Act.” The Court must defer to Congress’ judgment, as outlined in the Patent Act. View "FTC v. Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc." on Justia Law
Chase Manufacturing v. Johns Manville Corporation
For decades, Johns Manville Corp. ("JM") was the sole domestic manufacturer and supplier of calcium silicate (or “calsil”), a substance used to make thermal pipe insulation. In March 2018, Chase Manufacturing, Inc. (doing business as Thermal Pipe Shields, Inc., or "TPS") challenged JM’s monopoly status by entering the calsil market with a superior and less expensive product. JM responded by threatening distributors that it would not sell to them if they bought TPS’s competing calsil. By August 2021, more than three years after TPS’s market entry, JM retained over 97% of the domestic calsil market. TPS sued under the Sherman Act, alleging that JM had unlawfully: (1) maintained its monopoly; and (2) tied the availability of its insulation products to distributors’ not buying TPS’s calsil. The district court granted summary judgment for JM. Though the Tenth Circuit affirmed some of the district court’s rulings, it held that the district court erred in finding no genuine issues of material fact on whether JM unlawfully maintained its monopoly after TPS’s market entry. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Chase Manufacturing v. Johns Manville Corporation" on Justia Law
Anastasia Wullschleger v. Royal Canin U.S.A., Inc.
Plaintiff’s dog, Clinton, suffered from health problems. The solution, at least according to a veterinarian, was to feed him specialized dog food available only by prescription. It has different ingredients than regular dog food but includes no special medication. Prescription dog food is expensive. The crux of Plaintiff’s complaint is that the “prescription” requirement is misleading because the Food and Drug Administration never actually evaluates the product. And the damages came from its higher sales price. The original complaint, which included only state-law claims, reflected these theories. Brought on behalf of all similarly situated Missouri consumers, it alleged a violation of Missouri’s antitrust laws, claims under Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act, and unjust enrichment. Plaintiff initially filed her complaint in state court, but Royal Canin and Nestle Purina quickly removed it to federal court. The district court then remanded it. The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and send this case back to the district court with directions to remanded it to Missouri state court. The court explained that just on the face of the amended complaint, the answer is clear. Only the carryover claims and their civil-conspiracy counterpart remain, and neither one presents a federal question. It is no longer possible to say that “dependence on federal law permeates the allegations” of Plaintiff’s complaint. Further, the court wrote that the manufacturers hope to keep the case in federal court through supplemental jurisdiction. It is too late, however, to turn back the clock. View "Anastasia Wullschleger v. Royal Canin U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law