Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
US v. Brent Brewbaker
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the defendant, Brent Brewbaker, appealed from his conviction of a per se antitrust violation under § 1 of the Sherman Act, as well as five counts of mail and wire fraud. Brewbaker had asked the district court to dismiss the Sherman Act count for failure to state an offense, but the court denied his motion. The court of appeals reversed Brewbaker’s Sherman Act conviction, finding that the indictment failed to state a per se antitrust offense as it purported to do. The court, however, affirmed his fraud convictions and remanded the case for resentencing.The legal basis for the case was Brewbaker's argument that the indictment should have been dismissed because it did not state a per se Sherman Act offense, a claim that the appellate court agreed with. The court explained that the indictment alleged a restraint that was both horizontal and vertical in nature, which does not fit neatly into either category as per existing case law. The court further noted that the Supreme Court had not yet clarified how to analyze an agreement between two parties with both vertical and horizontal aspects. The court concluded that the indictment did not allege a restraint that has been previously held to be per se illegal, nor one that economics showed would invariably lead to anticompetitive effects, and thus failed to state a per se violation of the Sherman Act.The court also rejected Brewbaker's claim that the jury instructions on the Sherman Act count "infected" the jury’s consideration of the fraud counts, noting that the fraud counts were not dependent on finding Brewbaker guilty under the Sherman Act. It further cited the presumption that juries follow instructions, and found no extraordinary situation to overcome this presumption. Therefore, the fraud convictions were affirmed. View "US v. Brent Brewbaker" on Justia Law
Panik v. TMM, Inc.
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court concluding that the claims against Appellant did not fall within the categories of claims subject to Nevada's anti-SLAPP statutes without further analysis, holding that remand was required.In the underlying lawsuit, TMM, Inc. (TMMI) filed a third-party complaint against Appellant asserting claims for trade libel, misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, injunctive relief, abuse of process, and alter ego liability. Appellant filed an anti-SLAPP special motion to dismiss, which the district court denied. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) the district court erred in finding that the subject claims did not fall within the categories of claims subject to the anti-SLAPP statute; (2) Appellant met his burden under the first prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis; and (3) the district court applied an incorrect standard in evaluating TMMI's claims under the second prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis. View "Panik v. TMM, Inc." on Justia Law
BioCorRx, Inc. v. VDM Biochemicals, Inc.
BioCorRx, Inc. (BioCorRx) was a publicly traded company primarily engaged in the business of providing addiction treatment services and related medication. It issued several press releases that allegedly made misrepresentations and improperly disclosed confidential information about a treatment it was developing for opioid overdose. VDM Biochemicals, Inc. (VDM) specializes in the synthesis and distribution of chemicals, reagents, and other specialty products for life science research. It owned a patent (the patent) for VDM-001, a compound with potential use as a treatment for opioid overdose. In September 2018, VDM and BioCorRx entered into a Mutual Nondisclosure & Confidentiality Agreement (the NDA), which restricted each party’s disclosure of confidential information as they discussed forming a business relationship. A month later, VDM and BioCorRx signed a Letter of Intent to Enter Definitive Agreement to Acquire Stake in Intellectual Property (the letter of intent). The letter of intent memorialized the parties’ shared desire whereby BioCorRx would partner with VDM to develop and commercialize VDM-001. BioCorRx and VDM never signed a formal contract concerning VDM-001. Their relationship eventually soured. BioCorRx filed a complaint (the complaint) against VDM; VDM cross-complained. In response, BioCorRx filed the anti-SLAPP motion at issue here, seeking to strike all the allegations from the cross-complaint concerning the press releases. The Court of Appeal found these statements fell within the commercial speech exemption of California's Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP statute) because they were representations about BioCorRx’s business operations that were made to investors to promote its goods and services through the sale of its securities. Since these statements were not protected by the anti-SLAPP statute, the Court reversed the part of the trial court’s order granting the anti-SLAPP motion as to the press releases. The Court affirmed the unchallenged portion of the order striking unrelated allegations. View "BioCorRx, Inc. v. VDM Biochemicals, Inc." on Justia Law
Armadillo Hotel v. Harris
Plaintiff Armadillo Hotel Group, LLC (“Armadillo”) is a buyer and operator of modular and mobile structures throughout North America. According to Armadillo, Defendants Todd Harris and Jason McDaniel were hired in May 2019 to oversee Armadillo’s construction operations and its hotel, food, and beverage operations, respectively. McDaniel resigned in January 2021, Harris in July 2021. Harris and McDaniel asserted that they entered employment agreements with AHG Management as part of the joint venture, but AHG Management breached these agreements by failing to pay the agreed-upon salary, bonuses, and profit-sharing interests. They asserted claims of fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation, tortious interference, and unjust enrichment. Harris, McDaniel, SDRS, and BMC moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the non-GML defendants’ motion to dismiss with prejudice. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court explained that it could not find sufficient information in the record to decide if Armadillo and AHG Management were in privity with each other. The fact that the same attorneys filed AHG Management’s amended state counterclaim and Armadillo’s federal complaint is insufficient to show privity. Accordingly, the court found that the district court did not have sufficient information or even assertions about the relationship of Armadillo and AHG Management to perform such an assessment. View "Armadillo Hotel v. Harris" on Justia Law
Hanneman Family Funeral Home & Crematorium v. Orians
The Supreme Court affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court to grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants in this complaint alleging misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference with business contacts, tortious interference with business relationships, and conversion, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff, Hanneman Family Funeral Home and Crematorium, purchased a funeral home but did not retain the funeral home's director, Patrick Orians. Orians accepted employment at another funeral home, Chiles-Laman Funeral & Cremation Services, and used Plaintiff's customer information to solicit business for Chiles-Laman. Plaintiff sued Orians and Chiles-Laman (collectively, Defendants). The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the information at issue was not protected by the Ohio Uniform Trade Secrets Act as a trade secret; and (2) Plaintiff's tort claims were preempted by the Ohio Uniform Trade Secrets Act. View "Hanneman Family Funeral Home & Crematorium v. Orians" on Justia Law
Companions & Homemakers, Inc. v. A&B Homecare Solutions
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court awarding damages to Companions and Homemakers, Inc. for tortious interference with contractual and business relations and a violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), Conn. Gen. Stat. 42-110a et seq., holding that A&B Homecare Solutions, LLC was not entitled to relief on its allegations of error.Companions, the largest provide of Medicaid and state-funded home care services in Connecticut, brought this action against A&B. Following a jury trial, the trial court rendered judgment for Companions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in finding that A&B's misrepresentations were tortious; (2) the evidence was sufficient to establish that A&B's allegedly tortious interference cause Companions to suffer damages; and (3) the trial court did not err in finding that A&B's conduct was a violation of CUTPA. View "Companions & Homemakers, Inc. v. A&B Homecare Solutions" on Justia Law
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
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