Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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
Barber Group, Inc. v. New Motor Vehicle Bd.
Barber Group, Inc., doing business as Barber Honda (Barber)—a car dealer in Bakersfield, California—brought an establishment protest to the California New Motor Vehicle Board (Board), challenging a decision by American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (Honda) to open a new dealership about nine miles away. The Board overruled Barber’s protest, and the trial court denied Barber’s petition for administrative mandate challenging the Board’s decision. On appeal, Barber argued the Board prejudicially erred when it: (1) relied on Honda’s dealer performance standards at the protest hearing without first deciding whether those standards were reasonable; (2) permitted the proposed new dealership to exercise a peremptory challenge to an administrative law judge initially assigned to the protest hearing, contrary to notions of fairness and the Board’s own order in the matter; and (3) denied Barber’s request that it take official notice of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Barber Group, Inc. v. New Motor Vehicle Bd." on Justia Law
Ahn v. Stewart Title Guaranty Co.
Plaintiff-appellant Steve Ahn was a sales executive for a title insurer who claimed his sales figures were adversely affected when his employer barred him from using a particular sales pitch to solicit customers from a competitor who was also a proposed corporate merger partner. Ahn’s pitch told prospective clients that after the proposed merger was finalized, they would have no choice but to comply with his company’s higher-cost, less flexible underwriting standards. He attempted to use this pitch to convince these clients to abandon the competitor before the merger. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeals' consideration was whether Ahn had standing under the California antitrust statute, known as the Cartwright Act, to assert a cause of action. To this, the Court found that Ahn did not claim injury from the alleged anticompetitive aspects of the proposed merging entities' agreement, but rather from conduct that emphasized their competitive differences. "A complaint that he could not lure customers with a pitch about their restricted postmerger options does not constitute an antitrust injury, meaning Ahn lacks standing to sue under the Cartwright Act." The Court's conclusion that Ahn could not demonstrate an antitrust violation affected his derivative economic relations tort claims, both of which required independently wrongful conduct. Concluding the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment, the appellate court therefore affirmed the judgment. View "Ahn v. Stewart Title Guaranty Co." on Justia Law
California v. Maplebear Inc.
The San Diego City Attorney brought an enforcement action under the California Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq. (UCL), on behalf of the People of California against Maplebear Inc. DBA Instacart (Instacart). In their complaint, the State alleged Instacart unlawfully misclassified its employees as independent contractors in order to deny workers employee protections, harming its alleged employees and the public at large through a loss of significant payroll tax revenue, and giving Instacart an unfair advantage against its competitors. In response to the complaint, Instacart brought a motion to compel arbitration of a portion of the City’s action based on its agreements with the individuals it hired (called "Shoppers"). The trial court denied the motion, concluding Instacart failed to meet its burden to show a valid agreement to arbitrate between it and the State. Instacart appealed, arguing that even though the State was not a party to its Shopper agreements, it was bound by its arbitration provision to the extent the State sought injunctive relief and restitution because these remedies were “primarily for the benefit of” the Shoppers. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s order. View "California v. Maplebear Inc." on Justia Law
SK Trading International Co. Ltd. v. Superior Court
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
California v. Johnson & Johnson
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
Curtin Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge etc.
Curtin Maritime Corp. (Curtin) filed suit against its competitor, Pacific Dredge and Construction, LLC (Pacific), asserting one cause of action for violation of the Unfair Competition Law. The parties operated dredging vessels, and competed for contracts awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In its complaint, Curtin alleged Pacific was ineligible for two contracts it was awarded over Curtin because its vessel was not “entirely” built in the United States, a violation of the federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (commonly referred to as the Jones Act), and Pacific defrauded the Coast Guard in its successful application for certification that the vessel was U.S.-built. These allegations served as the sole basis for Curtin’s UCL claim. In response to the complaint, Pacific brought a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 to strike Curtin’s claim, asserting it arose from protected speech and that Curtin could not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. The trial court agreed with Pacific that the claim arose from protected activity, but concluded Curtin had met its burden at this early stage of litigation to show the claim had minimal merit and denied the motion. Pacific appealed the ruling, contending the trial court erred because the claim was preempted by the Jones Act. After Pacific filed its notice of appeal, Curtin dismissed the underlying lawsuit and moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. Pacific opposed the motion, asserting the appeal was viable since reversal of the trial court’s order would provide Pacific the opportunity to seek attorney fees under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal agreed with Pacific that the appeal was not moot, and dismissal of the appeal was not appropriate. Further, the Court concluded Curtin did not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying Pacific’s motion to strike, and directed the trial court to reinstate the case and issue an order granting the anti-SLAPP motion and striking Curtin’s claim. View "Curtin Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge etc." on Justia Law
Neurelis, Inc. v. Aquestive Therapeutics, Inc.
Neurelis, Inc. (Neurelis) and Aquestive Therapeutics, Inc. (Aquestive) were pharmaceutical companies developing their own respective means to administer diazepam, a drug used to treat acute repetitive seizures (ARS). Neurelis was further along in the development process than Aquestive. According to Neurelis, Aquestive engaged in a “multi-year, anticompetitive campaign to derail the Food and Drug Administration” (FDA) from approving Neurelis’s new drug. Based on Aquestive’s alleged conduct, Neurelis sued Aquestive for defamation, malicious prosecution, and violation of the unfair competition law. In response, Aquestive brought a special motion to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. The superior court granted in part and denied in part Aquestive’s motion, finding that the defamation cause of action could not withstand the anti-SLAPP challenge. However, the court denied the motion as to Neurelis’s other two causes of action. Aquestive appealed, contending the court erred by failing to strike the malicious prosecution action as well as the claim for a violation of the UCL. Neurelis, in turn, cross-appealed, maintaining that the conduct giving rise to its defamation cause of action was not protected under the anti- SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal agreed that at least some of the conduct giving rise to the defamation action was covered by the commercial speech exception and not subject to the anti-SLAPP statute. Accordingly, the Court held the superior court erred in granting the anti-SLAPP motion as to the defamation action. Some of this same conduct also gave rise to the UCL claim and was not subject to the anti-SLAPP statute too. However, the Court noted that Neurelis based part of two of its causes of action on Aquestive’s petitioning activity. That activity was protected conduct under the anti-SLAPP statute, and Neurelis did not show a likelihood to prevail on the merits. Thus, allegations relating to this petitioning conduct had to be struck. Finally, the Court found Neurelis did not show a probability of success on the merits regarding its malicious prosecution claim. As such, the Court held that claim should have been struck under the anti-SLAPP statute. View "Neurelis, Inc. v. Aquestive Therapeutics, Inc." on Justia Law
Lee v. Luxottica Retail North America, Inc.
Lee, a San Francisco independent optometrist, sued corporate affiliates operating optical retail stores in California that offer competing eyeglass products and optometry services, on behalf of a putative class of independent optometrists. He alleged that the chain stores operated in a manner that violated state laws regulating the practice of optometry and the dispensing of optical products, constituting unfair and/or unlawful business practices in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). He claimed that “adults are, on average, willing to drive more than 20 miles for routine medical care” and that “[i]f patients had not been able to visit illegal optometry locations, a statistically significant and statistically ascertainable percentage of such patients would have instead visited at least one member of the Class. The complaint sought a judgment “[o]rdering the restitution/disgorgement of all sums obtained by Defendants through improper taking of market share from Class Members through violations of the UCL.”The court of appeal affirmed the suit's dismissal. Compensation for lost market share is not a remedy authorized by the UCL, because it does not constitute restitution, the only form of nonpunitive monetary recovery authorized under the UCL. Compensation for expected but unearned future income to which the plaintiff has no legal entitlement is not recoverable as restitution under the UCL, regardless of how it is characterized. View "Lee v. Luxottica Retail North America, Inc." on Justia Law
Muddy Waters v. Superior Court
In 2017, plaintiff Perfectus Aluminum, Inc. filed a civil complaint alleging causes of action for: (1) violation of California Unfair Competition Law; (2) trade libel; and (3) intentional interference with prospective economic advantage. Plaintiff named “Dupré Analytics” as the sole defendant in the complaint and alleged liability based upon the publication of two reports that suggested plaintiff was part of a conspiracy to artificially inflate the sales of a large Chinese aluminum company. Muddy Waters, LLC, doing business as Dupré Analytics (Muddy Waters) responded to the complaint by filing a special motion to strike pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute found in Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. The trial court denied Muddy Waters’s motion on the ground that Muddy Waters failed to show plaintiff’s causes of action arose out of protected activity under section 425.16 and that alternatively, the commercial speech exception found in section 425.17 (c), precluded granting the motion. Muddy Waters petitioned the Court of Appeal for mandamus relief. The Court concluded the trial court erred in denying Muddy Waters’s special motion to strike. Accordingly, the Court ordered a writ of mandate issue directing the superior court to vacate its order denying Muddy Waters’s special motion to strike and to enter a new order granting the motion. View "Muddy Waters v. Superior Court" on Justia Law