Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Appellants Area 55, LLC, and SAB Holdings, LLC appealed a trial court order granting the special motion to strike their first amended complaint for malicious prosecution and the related judgment of dismissal in favor of Respondents Nicholas & Tomasevic, LLP (N&T), Craig Nicholas, and Alex Tomasevic. Appellants included the successors to Vinturi, Inc. (Vinturi), which developed and sold the “ ‘Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator’ for wine-lovers who want to enhance their experience of drinking wine.” Vinturi started selling the Vinturi Aerator in 2006. As sold to the public, the box contained the Vinturi body with a decorative black silicone band, a rubber stand, and a filter screen -- parts all made in China, transported to the United States, and assembled in the United States. From 2006 until 2010, Vinturi sold its aerator in the United States with the statement “ ‘VINTURI IS MANUFACTURED IN THE USA’ ” printed on the bottom panel of the box. Attorney Nicholas filed various consumer fraud claims, challenging Appellants claim the aerator was made in the U.S. when the components were made in China. Appellants were successful in getting two class action cases dismissed. In 2018, Appellants filed the present case for malicious prosecution, resulting in the grant of Respondents' "SLAPP" motion on appeal. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in ruling that Appellants could not establish the prior action was not terminated on its merits. "Thus, for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute, the court erred in ruling that Appellants did not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits of their malicious prosecution claim." In addition, in its de novo review, the Court exercised discretion to reach the additional issues raised by the parties in the motion and opposition: Appellants made a sufficient prima facie showing of the remaining elements of their claim, and Respondents did not defeat Appellants’ claim as a matter of law. Accordingly, the order granting Respondents’ special motion to strike the complaint was vacated and reversed. On remand, the trial court was directed to enter a new and different order denying Respondents’ special motion. View "Area 55 v. Nicholas & Tomasevic" on Justia Law

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Quidel Corporation (Quidel) petitioned for a writ of mandate and/or prohibition to direct the trial court to vacate its order granting summary adjudication. Quidel contended the trial court incorrectly concluded a provision in its contract with Beckman Coulter, Inc. (Beckman) was an invalid restraint on trade in violation of Business and Professions Code, section 16600. Quidel argued the trial court improperly extended the holding from Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP, 44 Cal.4th 937 (2008) beyond the employment context to a provision in the parties’ 2003 BNP Assay Agreement (the Agreement). In its original, published opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded it was not, granted the petition and issued a writ instructing the trial court to vacate the December 2018 order granting summary judgment on the first cause of action. The California Supreme Court then granted review of the Court of Appeal's opinion and ordered briefing deferred pending its decision in Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc., S256927. On August 3, 2020, the Supreme Court issued Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc., 9 Cal.5th 1130 (2020), which held “a rule of reason applies to determine the validity of a contractual provision by which a business is restrained from engaging in a lawful trade or business with another business.” The Quidel matter was transferred back to the Court of Appeals with directions to vacate its previous opinion and reconsider the case in light of Ixchel. The appellate court issued a new opinion in which it concluded the trial court’s decision was incorrect. The trial court was directed to vacate the December 7, 2018 order granting summary adjudication on the first cause of action. View "Quidel Corporation v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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In this antitrust dispute involving licensing of motion pictures to movie theaters for public exhibition, Flagship obtained a jury verdict against Century. Flagship owned the Palme d'Or theater and Century owned The River theater. The jury found true Flagship's allegations that Century had engaged in "circuit dealing" by entering into licensing agreements with film distributors that covered licenses to play films not just at The River, but at multiple other Century-owned theaters as well, and using these agreements to pressure distributors into refusing to license films to Palme d'Or.The Court of Appeal agreed with Century that Flagship did not present substantial evidence of anticompetitive effects in the relevant market. The court also agreed with Century that this failure of proof warrants reversal, as circuit dealing based on multi-theater licensing agreements is not per se illegal under the Cartwright Act. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment and need not reach Century's remaining arguments on appeal. The court also did not need to address Flagship's case from the court's postjudgment order awarding Flagship attorney fees in an amount lower than Flagship had requested. View "Flagship Theatres of Palm Desert, LLC v. Century Theatres, Inc." on Justia Law

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Porter Scott, P.C. (hereafter, “Porter Scott”) defended The Johnson Group Staffing Company, Inc. (hereafter, “TJG” or “Johnson Group”) through two rounds of litigation with its chief competitor, Aerotek, Inc. (hereafter, “Aerotek”). Aerotek first sued TJG after TJG’s founder, Chris Johnson, left Aerotek to form TJG. In the lawsuit, Aerotek alleged that TJG and Johnson, among other things, misappropriated trade secrets by soliciting Aerotek’s customers. TJG and Johnson settled with Aerotek a little over a year later. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review concerned the ownership of fees awarded under Civil Code 3426.4, and whether the prevailing litigant (here, The Johnson Group Staffing Company, Inc.) or the prevailing litigant’s attorney (here, Porter Scott, P.C.) were entitled to the fees awarded to the “prevailing party.” The Court concluded that, absent an enforceable agreement to the contrary, these fees belonged to the attorney to the extent they exceeded the fees the litigant already paid. Furthermore, the Court concluded that, although the parties here entered into a fee agreement, that agreement did not alter the default disposition of fees in favor of the attorney. Because the trial court reached the same conclusion, the Court of Appeal affirmed its judgment. View "Aerotek v. Johnson Group Staffing Co." on Justia Law