Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Sulitzer v. Tippins
The SmileDirect parties developed an online service model for patients to access certain orthodontic services; they allege the defendants (members and employees of the California Dental Board) conspired to harass them with unfounded investigations and an intimidation campaign, to drive them out of the market. The district court dismissed the suit. The Ninth Circuit reversed with respect to certain Sherman Act antitrust claims. The SmileDirect parties sufficiently pled Article III standing; they alleged an injury in fact that was fairly traceable to defendants’ challenged conduct and was judicially redressable. They sufficiently alleged anticompetitive concerted action, or an agreement to restrain trade. The court rejected an argument that regulatory board members and employees cannot form an anticompetitive conspiracy when acting within their regulatory authority.The court affirmed the dismissal of a claim under the Dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from discriminating against interstate commerce, and of a "disparate treatment" Equal Protection Clause claim. To plead a class-of-one equal protection claim, plaintiffs must allege that they have been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment. A class-of-one plaintiff must be similarly situated to the proposed comparator in all material respects. Rather than claiming that they stood on the same footing as others, the SmileDirect parties argued their uniqueness. View "Sulitzer v. Tippins" on Justia Law
SmileDirectClub, LLC v. Battle
SmileDirect filed suit against the Georgia Board of Dentistry, including the Board’s members in their individual capacities, alleging inter alia, antitrust, Equal Protection, and Due Process violations related to the amendment of Ga. Bd. of Dentistry R. 150-9-.02. On appeal, the Board members challenged the denial of their motion to dismiss the complaint with respect to the alleged antitrust violations.After determining that it does have appellate jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that, based on the facts alleged in SmileDirect's complaint, the Board members are not entitled to state-action immunity under Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341 (1943), at this point in the litigation, and the district court properly denied their motion to dismiss. In this case, the Board members have failed to satisfy the Midcal test by failing to meet the "active supervision" prong of the test and both prongs are necessary to satisfy the test. Furthermore, the court rejected the Board members' argument that ipso facto state-action immunity is available merely because of the Governor's power and duty, and without regard to his actual exercise thereof. The court explained that the Board members have established no more than the mere potential for active supervision on the part of the Governor, and thus they have fallen far short of establishing that the amended rule was "in reality" the action of the Governor. View "SmileDirectClub, LLC v. Battle" on Justia Law
Chicago Studio Rental, Inc. v. Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity
For nearly 30 years, Chicago Studio operated the only film studio in Chicago. In 2010, Cinespace opened a new studio. Cinespace rapidly expanded its studio to include 26 more stages and 24 times more floor space than Chicago Studio’s facility. Chicago Studio subsequently failed to attract business and stopped making a profit. Chicago Studio sued the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Film Office, and Steinberg (state actors responsible for promoting the Illinois film industry), alleging that the Defendants unlawfully steered state incentives and business to Cinespace in violation of the Sherman Act and equal protection and due process protections. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of those claims. The Sherman Act claim was properly dismissed because Chicago Studio failed to adequately plead an antitrust injury but merely alleged injuries to Chicago Studio, not to competition. The complaint does not plausibly allege that Defendants conspired to monopolize or attempted to monopolize the Chicago market for operating film studios. The district court properly granted summary judgment on the equal protection claim. Chicago Studio and Cinespace are not similarly situated, and there was a rational basis for Steinberg’s conduct. Cinespace consistently reached out to Steinberg for marketing support; Chicago Studio rarely did and it was rational for Steinberg to promote the studios based on production needs. View "Chicago Studio Rental, Inc. v. Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity" on Justia Law
Paramount Media Group, Inc. v. Village of Bellwood
In 2005 Paramount leased a parcel of highway-adjacent property in Bellwood, Illinois, planning to erect a billboard. Paramount never applied for a local permit. When Bellwood enacted a ban on new billboard permits in 2009, Paramount lost the opportunity to build its sign. Paramount later sought to take advantage of an exception to the ban for village-owned property, offering to lease a different parcel of highway-adjacent property directly from Bellwood. Bellwood accepted an offer from Image, one of Paramount’s competitors. Paramount sued Bellwood and Image, alleging First Amendment, equal-protection, due-process, Sherman Act, and state-law violations. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Paramount lost its lease while the suit was pending, which mooted its claim for injunctive relief from the sign ban. The claim for damages was time-barred, except for an alleged equal-protection violation. That claim failed because Paramount was not similarly situated to Image; Paramount offered Bellwood $1,140,000 in increasing installments over 40 years while Image offered a lump sum of $800,000. Bellwood and Image are immune from Paramount’s antitrust claims. The court did not consider whether a market-participant exception to that immunity exists because Paramount failed to support its antitrust claims. View "Paramount Media Group, Inc. v. Village of Bellwood" on Justia Law
Veritext Corp. v. Bonin
Veritext filed suit challenging the Board's enforcement of La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 1434(A)(1), which provides that depositions shall be taken before an officer authorized to administer oaths, who is not an employee or attorney of any of the parties or otherwise interested in the outcome of the case. In 2012, the Board began enforcing Article 1434 more aggressively, declaring that the law prohibits all contracts between court reporters and party litigants, including volume-based discounts and concessions to frequent customers.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court was correct to dismiss all of the constitutional claims brought by Veritext as a matter of Supreme Court precedent. The court explained that Louisiana's interest in the integrity of its court reporting system was legally sufficient, and Veritext failed to clearly identify a burden on interstate commerce imposed by the Board's enforcement of Article 1434 that exceeds its local benefits. However, the court held that Veritext pled facts sufficient to support a finding that the Board's conduct did restrain trade and remanded so that Veritext could proceed on its Sherman Act claim. View "Veritext Corp. v. Bonin" on Justia Law
Robbins v. Becker,
The Robbinses provide towing and wrecker services along the I-44 corridor in eastern Missouri. State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Troops C and I, pursuant to MSHP policy, used a “rotation list” of approved towing and wrecking companies to determine which company to call to the scene of a disabled vehicle if the vehicle owner had no preference. The Robbinses were on both lists until they were removed, reportedly because Robbins had been charged with shooting at a competitor’s truck in 1999. The Robbinses alleged the criminal charge resulted from a “sham investigation” and that their competitor used a friendship with an MSHP officer, with whom Robbins had had a confrontation, to harm the Robbinses’ business. A jury acquitted Robbins, but they were never reinstated to either list. In 2005, the Robbinses sued the MSHP. The state court determined the MSHP lacked statutory authority to create a rotation list. In 2010, the Robbinses sued officers in their individual capacities, alleging due process and equal protection violations and conspiracy to violate those rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and violations of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, 2, claiming that the officers conspired to deny them work and disparaged their business. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the officers. View "Robbins v. Becker," on Justia Law
Gazelka v. St. Peter’s Hosp.
After receiving treatment from St. Peter’s Hospital, Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the Hospital violated Montana anti-trust laws and the Montana Constitution by discriminating against her based on her lack of health insurance. After concluding that Plaintiff had standing, the district court awarded summary judgment to the Hospital, determining that uninsured persons are not a protected class under the Montana Constitution. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the district court’s standing determination; but (2) reversed the court’s entry of summary judgment on the merits, holding that the determinations that the district court made in its summary judgment order did not resolve all of Plaintiff’s claims. Remanded. View "Gazelka v. St. Peter’s Hosp." on Justia Law
Lawson v. Office of Attorney Gen.
In 1983, Appellant, the owner and chief executive officer of an asphalt company, pled guilty to violating the Sherman Antitrust Act for unlawfully bidding on state highway construction contracts. In order to have his company's privilege of bidding on new contracts reinstated, Appellant agreed to cooperate with the Attorney General's (AG) investigation and proffered information pertaining to Appellant's involvement in a scheme to "rig" bids for highway construction contracts with the Kentucky Department of Transportation. In 2009, reporters for several newspapers submitted an Open Records Act (ORA) request to have the proffer disclosed. When Appellant learned the AG intended to release the proper, Appellant brought this action against the AG and ORA reporters seeking to have the release enjoined under the privacy exemption or the law enforcement exemption to the ORA. In 2011, the trial court ruled that the proffer should be released to the ORA requestors. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant did not have standing to invoke the law enforcement exemption provision to the ORA; and (2) matters of sufficient public interest warranted an invasion of Appellant's limited privacy interest in keeping his proffer from being disclosed. View "Lawson v. Office of Attorney Gen." on Justia Law
Yakima Valley Mem’l Hosp. v. Dep’t of Health
After the Department denied Memorial's application for a Certificate of Need to perform elective percutaneous coronary interventions (PCIs), Memorial filed suit alleging that the PCI regulations were an unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and unreasonably discriminated against interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court concluded that the requirements did not violate the dormant Commerce Clause where the minimum procedure requirement did not burden interstate commerce and the minimum procedure requirement protected public safety. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of all of Memorial's remaining claims. View "Yakima Valley Mem'l Hosp. v. Dep't of Health" on Justia Law
Chief Info. Officer v. Computers Plus Ctr., Inc.
This case arose from disputes between the Department of Information Technology and Defendant, a computer equipment supplier, over two contracts between the parties. The Department filed this action against Defendant, alleging breach of contract and fraud claims. Defendant filed an amended counterclaim, alleging takings and due process violations. The Department moved to dismiss the takings and due process claims based on the State's sovereign immunity. The trial court determined that the Department had waived the State's sovereign immunity regarding Defendant's counterclaims by bringing this cause of action against Defendant. After a jury trial, the trial court awarded Defendant damages on its procedural due process counterclaim. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the judgment of the trial court in favor of Defendant on the procedural due process counterclaim, holding that the Department did not waive the state's sovereign immunity by initiating the present litigation, and therefore, the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Defendant's counterclaims; and (2) affirmed in all other respects. View "Chief Info. Officer v. Computers Plus Ctr., Inc." on Justia Law