Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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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

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The Supreme Court held that the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) prohibits disclosure, under the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA), of documents from pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers collected under S.B. 539.The Nevada Independent (TNI) filed a petition with the district court seeking an order directing the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to release the documents at issue. The district court concluded that the documents were not subject to disclosure under the NPRA because the information contained in them comprised trade secrets protected under the DTSA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the DTSA classifies the requested documents, obtained pursuant to S.B. 539, as confidential trade secrets, the documents were exempt from disclosure under the NPRA; and (2) TNI's remaining allegations of error were without merit. View "Nevada Independent v. Whitley" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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The FTC filed suit under 15 U.S.C. 53(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) against appellants, alleging that they had engaged in unfair or deceptive business practices in violation of 15 U.S.C. 45(a) under the collective name of "On Point." On appeal, On Point challenges the district court's preliminary injunction.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed parts of the preliminary injunction enjoining appellants from misrepresenting their services and releasing consumer information. However, while this appeal was pending, the Supreme Court held in AMG Capital Management that section 53(b) does not permit an award of equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement, leaving the asset freeze and receivership aspects of the preliminary injunction unsupported by law. Therefore, the court vacated parts of the preliminary injunction subjecting the remaining appellants at issue to the asset freeze and receivership to the extent the district court has not already provided relief. View "Federal Trade Commission v. On Point Capital Partners LLC" on Justia Law

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The Federal Circuit affirmed the U.S. Court of International Trade's decision sustaining the U.S. Department of Commerce's final results in the fifth administrative review of the antidumping duty order on large power transformers from the Republic of Korea. This case involves two categories of information that Commerce requested from Hyundai, namely product-specific cost information and cost-reconciliation information.The court held that Commerce's determinations to rely on facts otherwise available, to cancel verification, and to draw an adverse inference in selecting from among the facts otherwise available are supported by substantial evidence and otherwise not contrary to law. In this case, Hyundai's repeated disclosure of partial, aggregate, or sample information rather than complete and itemized information establishes that Commerce's decision to rely on facts otherwise available was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence. Furthermore, Commerce articulated sound reasons for seeking more detailed information regarding Hyundai's cost-shifting in this administrative review than in prior reviews, including its observation that cost shifting had a larger impact on this administrative review. The court explained that such concerns support the reasonableness of Commerce's requests for a greater amount of detail in this administrative review. Finally, to the extent that the shortcomings of Hyundai's responses are attributable to its record keeping, that alone does not avoid an adverse inference. Here, Commerce clearly and repeatedly requested the information and identified the defects in Hyundai’s responses, and the information that was ultimately missing from the record was foundational to Commerce's ability to perform the antidumping duty calculations in a sound manner. The court considered Hyundai's remaining arguments and found them unpersuasive. View "Hyundai Electric & Energy Systems Co., Ltd. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Companies that tow or recycle used cars alleged that Milwaukee and its subcontractor, engaged in anticompetitive behavior to self-allocate towing services and abandoned vehicles, a primary input in the scrap metal recycling business. They alleged that an exclusive contract the city entered into with one of the area’s largest recycling providers, Miller Compressing, violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and that the contract provided direct evidence of an agreement to restrain trade. They cited laws that require a city-issued license to tow vehicles from certain areas, that obligate towing companies to provide various notices, and that cap maximum charges imposed on vehicle owners who have illegally parked or abandoned their vehicles, as having been enacted to squeeze them out of the market.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The arrangement between the city and Miller is not per se unreasonable on the basis of horizontal price-fixing. The court also rejected a claim of “bid-rigging.” View "Always Towing & Recovery Inc. v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit granted 1-800 Contacts' petitions for review of the FTC's final order finding that agreements between 1-800 Contacts and various competitors to, among other things, refrain from bidding on "keyword" search terms for internet advertisements, violate Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act).The court held that, although trademark settlement agreements are not immune from antitrust scrutiny, the FTC (1) improperly considered the agreements to be "inherently suspect" and (2) incorrectly concluded that the challenged agreements are a violation of the FTC Act under the "rule of reason." In this case, where the restrictions that arise are born of typical trademark settlement agreements, the court cannot overlook the challenged agreements' procompetitive goal of promoting trademark policy. In light of the strong procompetitive justification of protecting 1-800 Contacts' trademarks, the court concluded that the challenged agreements merely regulate and perhaps thereby promote competition. Therefore, the court stated that they do not constitute a violation of the Sherman Act and thus an asserted violation of the FTC Act fails of necessity. Accordingly, the court vacated the FTC's final order and remanded to the Commission with orders to dismiss the administrative complaint. View "1-800-Contacts, Inc. v. Federal Trade Comission" on Justia Law

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Until 2016, the FAA maintained a formal “slot control” system at Newark International Airport, requiring each airline to request a “slot” for each takeoff or landing. The FAA currently announces caps on takeoffs and landings for a given scheduling season. Each airline tells the FAA what flights it wants to operate during the upcoming season. The FAA may either approve an airline’s plan or request that it make changes in order to reduce congestion. An airline is not legally barred from operating unapproved flights/In 2010, the Department of Justice (DoJ) conditioned a merger on United’s transferring 36 slots to Southwest Airlines, a low-fare carrier, new to Newark. For five years, the DoJ resisted United’s attempts to acquire more slots. In 2015 the DoJ sued United for attempted monopolization but United remained Newark's dominant carrier. In 2019 Southwest announced it would pull out of Newark; 16 of its slots were in “peak hours.” Spirit Airlines requested five. The DoJ and the Port Authority cautioned the FAA against retiring Southwest’s slots, to preserve competition.The D.C. Circuit vacated the FAA’s decision to retire the slots. The decision was final because it prevented Spirit from operating as many peak-period flights as it would otherwise have done in Summer 2020 and was arbitrary and capricious because the agency disregarded warnings about the effect of its decision on competition at Newark. View "Spirit Airlines, Inc. v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, of Axon's action alleging that the FTC's administrative enforcement process violated the company's constitutional rights. In this case, the FTC investigated and filed an administrative complaint challenging Axon's acquisition of a competitor, demanding that Axon spin-off its newly acquired company and provide it with Axon's own intellectual property. The district court dismissed the complaint after determining that the FTC's statutory scheme requires Axon to raise its constitutional challenge first in the administrative proceeding.The panel held that the Supreme Court's Thunder Basin trilogy of cases mandates dismissal. The panel explained that the structure of the Federal Trade Commission Act suggests that Congress impliedly barred jurisdiction in district court and required parties to move forward first in the agency proceeding. Because the FTC statutory scheme ultimately allows Axon to present its constitutional challenges to a federal court of appeals after the administrative proceeding, the panel concluded that Axon has not suffered any cognizable harm. Therefore, the panel joined every other circuit that has addressed a similar issue in ruling that Congress impliedly stripped the district court of jurisdiction. View "Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law