Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
Ellis v. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District
The district court dismissed a suit alleging that a price plan adopted by Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (SRP) unlawfully discriminated against customers with solar-energy systems and was designed to stifle competition in the electricity market.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, applying Arizona’s notice-of-claim statute, which provides that persons who have claims against a public entity, such as SRP, must file with the entity a claim containing a specific amount for which the claim can be settled.The district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ equal protection claim as barred by Arizona’s two-year statute of limitations. The claim did not accrue when SRP approved the price plan, but rather when plaintiffs received a bill under the new rate structure. The plaintiffs alleged a series of violations, each of which gave rise to a new claim and began a new limitations period.Monopolization and attempted monopolization claims under the Sherman Act were not barred by the filed-rate doctrine, which bars individuals from asserting civil antitrust challenges to an entity’s agency-approved rates. SRP was not entitled to state-action immunity because Arizona had not articulated a policy to displace competition.The Local Government Antitrust Act shielded SRP from federal antitrust damages because SRP is a special functioning governmental unit but the Act does not bar declaratory or injunctive relief. The district court erred in concluding that plaintiffs failed to adequately allege antitrust injury based on the court’s finding that the price plan actually encouraged competition in alternative energy investment. View "Ellis v. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District" on Justia Law
PNE Energy Supply LLC v. Eversource Energy
The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court dismissing this lawsuit challenging Defendants' alleged manipulation of natural gas pipeline capacity for failure to state a claim, holding that any differences between two cases filed with regard to this issue did not warrant a different outcome.In 2017, a group of economists published a report alleging that Defendants were able to increase electricity prices in New England by buying up and refusing to release excess transmission capacity in the Algonquin pipeline. In response, a group of electricity end consumers filed suit alleging violations of federal and state antitrust and unfair competition law. Thereafter, PNE Energy Supply LLC, a wholesale energy purchaser, filed this lawsuit also challenging Defendants' conduct in neither using nor releasing reserved pipeline capacity. The district court dismissed the electricity consumers' suit. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the antitrust claims failed on their merits because Defendants' conduct occurred pursuant to a tariff approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. At issue was whether the logic from the electricity consumers' suit also applied to this lawsuit brought by PNE. The First Circuit held that the holding in the first lawsuit controlled and affirmed the district court's dismissal of PNE's lawsuit. View "PNE Energy Supply LLC v. Eversource Energy" on Justia Law
Breiding v. Eversource Energy
The First Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Plaintiffs' claims that Defendants' conduct violated section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, and various state antitrust and consumer protection laws, holding that the claims were barred by the filed-rate doctrine.Defendants were two large energy companies that purchased natural gas from producers, resold it to retail natural gas consumers throughout New England, and transported the natural gas along the interstate Algonquin Gas pipeline. Plaintiffs, a putative class of retail electricity customers in New England, brought this action alleging that Defendants strategically reserved excess capacity along the pipeline without using or reselling it, which ultimately resulted in higher retail electricity rates paid by New England electricity consumers. The district court dismissed the claims, concluding that they were barred by the filed-rate doctrine and, alternatively, for lack of antitrust standing and Plaintiffs' failure to plausibly allege a monopolization claim under the Sherman Act. The First Circuit affirmed without reaching the district court's alternative grounds for dismissal, holding that all of Plaintiffs' claims were barred by application of the filed-rate doctrine. View "Breiding v. Eversource Energy" on Justia Law
DTC Energy Group v. Hirschfeld
Plaintiff-Appellant DTC Energy Group, Inc., sued two of its former employees, Adam Hirschfeld and Joseph Galban, as well as one of its industry competitors, Ally Consulting, LLC, for using DTC’s trade secrets to divert business from DTC to Ally. DTC moved for a preliminary injunction based on its claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and unfair competition. The district court denied the motion, finding DTC had shown a probability of irreparable harm from Hirschfeld’s ongoing solicitation of DTC clients, but that DTC could not show the ongoing solicitation violated Hirschfeld’s employment agreement. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not abuse its discretion when denying DTC's motion for a preliminary injunction, and affirmed. View "DTC Energy Group v. Hirschfeld" on Justia Law
Buccaneer Energy v. Gunnison Energy
Buccaneer Energy (USA) Inc. sued SG Interests I, Ltd., SG Interests VII, Ltd. (together, “SG”), and Gunnison Energy Corporation (“GEC”) (collectively, “Defendants”) after unsuccessfully seeking an agreement to transport natural gas on Defendants’ jointly owned pipeline system at a price Buccaneer considered reasonable. Specifically, Buccaneer alleged that by refusing to provide reasonable access to the system, Defendants had conspired in restraint of trade and conspired to monopolize in violation of sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, respectively. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, concluding that Buccaneer could not establish either of its antitrust claims and that, in any event, Buccaneer lacked antitrust standing. The Tenth Circuit agreed that Buccaneer failed to present sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of fact on one or more elements of each of its claims, and therefore affirmed on that dispositive basis alone. View "Buccaneer Energy v. Gunnison Energy" on Justia Law
Energy Conversion Devices Liquidation Trust v. Trina Solar Ltd.
The defendant companies, based in China, produce conventional solar energy panels. Energy Conversion and other American manufacturers produce the newer thin-film panels. The Chinese producers sought greater market shares. They agreed to export more products to the U.S. and to sell them below cost. Several entities supported their endeavor. Suppliers provided discounts, a trade association facilitated cooperation, and the Chinese government provided below-cost financing. From 2008-2011, the average selling prices of their panels fell over 60%. American manufacturers consulted the Department of Commerce, which found that the Chinese firms had harmed American industry through illegal dumping and assessed substantial tariffs. The American manufacturers continued to suffer; more than 20 , including Energy Conversion, filed for bankruptcy or closed. Energy Conversion sued under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and Michigan law, seeking $3 billion in treble damages, claiming that the Chinese companies had unlawfully conspired “to sell Chinese manufactured solar panels at unreasonably low or below cost prices . . . to destroy an American industry.” Because this allegation did not state that the Chinese companies could or would recoup their losses by charging monopoly prices after driving competitors from the field, the court dismissed the claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Without such an allegation or any willingness to prove a reasonable prospect of recoupment, the court correctly rejected the claim. View "Energy Conversion Devices Liquidation Trust v. Trina Solar Ltd." on Justia Law
Simens Energy, Inc. v. United States, Wind Tower Trade Coalition
The Department of Commerce determined that utility scale wind towers from the People’s Republic of China and utility scale wind towers from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (together, the subject merchandise) were sold in the United States at less than fair value and that it received countervailable subsidies. The International Trade Commission made a final affirmative determination of material injury to the domestic industry. The determination was by divided vote of the six-member Commission. The Court of International Trade upheld the Commission’s affirmative injury determination. Siemens Energy, Inc., an importer of utility scale wind towers, challenged the determination. The issues on appeal concerned the interpretation and effect of the divided vote. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that the Court of International Trade properly upheld the Commission’s affirmative injury determination. View "Simens Energy, Inc. v. United States, Wind Tower Trade Coalition" on Justia Law
Oneok, Inc. v. Learjet, Inc.
Institutions that buy natural gas directly from interstate pipelines sued, claiming that the pipelines had violated state antitrust laws: that they reported false information to the natural-gas indices on which natural-gas contracts were based. The indices affected both retail and wholesale natural-gas prices. The pipelines sought summary judgment, arguing that the Natural Gas Act pre-empted state-law claims. That Act gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority to determine whether rates charged by natural-gas companies or practices affecting such rates are unreasonable, 15 U.S.C. 717d(a). It limits FERC’s jurisdiction to the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce, the sale in interstate commerce of natural gas for resale, and natural-gas companies engaged in such transportation or sale, leaving regulation of other portions of the industry, such as retail sales, to the states. The district court granted the motion. The Ninth Circuit reversed. Acknowledging that the pipelines’ index manipulation increased wholesale prices, it held that the state-law claims were not pre-empted because they were aimed at obtaining damages only for excessively high retail prices. The Supreme Court affirmed, emphasizing the importance of considering the target at which the state-law claims aim. Here, the claims are aimed at practices affecting retail prices, a matter “firmly on the States’ side of [the] dividing line.” State antitrust laws are not aimed at natural-gas companies in particular, but rather all businesses and states have long provided “common-law and statutory remedies against monopolies and unfair business practices.” The industries did not identify a specific FERC determination that state antitrust claims are pre-empted by the Act. View "Oneok, Inc. v. Learjet, Inc." on Justia Law
Williams v. Duke Energy Int’l, Inc.
Ohio individuals and businesses sued Duke Energy, alleging violation of the Robinson-Patman Act , 15 U.S.C. 13, Ohio's Pattern of Corrupt Activity Act, a civil RICO claim, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c), and common-law claims of fraud and civil conspiracy. Plaintiffs alleged that Duke, through subsidiaries and an affiliated company, paid unlawful and substantial rebates to certain large customers, including General Motors, in exchange for the withdrawal by said customers of objections to a rate-stabilization plan that Duke was attempting to have approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio as part of a transition to market-based pricing under Ohio Rev. Code 4928.05, enacted in 1999. The district court dismissed, finding that it was deprived of federal question jurisdiction by the filed-rate doctrine, requiring that common carriers and their customers adhere to tariffs filed and approved by the appropriate regulatory agencies, and that PUCO had exclusive jurisdiction over state-law claims, depriving the court of diversity jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the filed-rate doctrine applies only in challenges to the underlying reasonableness or setting of filed rates and that plaintiffs adequately stated claims. View "Williams v. Duke Energy Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law
Dynegy Mktg. & Trade v. Multiut Corp.
Plaintiff, a natural gas supplier, and defendants, a natural gas distributor and its executive, had a written contract. The relationship unraveled in the face of a failed acquisition, several million dollars' worth of unpaid invoices, and frequent disputes over pricing, inflamed by allegations that natural gas suppliers were manipulating the indices on which natural gas price quotes are based. The district court granted plaintiff summary judgment and ultimately issued a Rule 54(b) judgment on contract and guaranty claims and rejecting counterclaims. The court awarded $8,929,449 in pre-judgment interest on top of its damages of $13,693,943. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments concerning exclusion of an affidavit submitted by defendant, the alleged existence of additional oral contracts, an implied agreement to waive interest, and the sufficiency of evidence. Without something linking defendant's downfall to plaintiff's divulgence or inappropriate use of information in violation of the confidentiality agreement, there was no issue warranting trial on that claim. There was insufficient evidence of price discrimination in violation of the Robinson-Patman Act, 15 U.S.C. 13(a). View "Dynegy Mktg. & Trade v. Multiut Corp." on Justia Law