Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government Contracts
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
Always Towing & Recovery Inc. v. City of Milwaukee
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
Uber Technologies Pricing Cases
Taxi companies and taxi medallion owners sued Uber, alleging violations of the Unfair Practices Act’s (UPA) prohibition against below-cost sales (Bus & Prof. Code, 17043) and of the Unfair Competition Law (section 17200). The UPA makes it unlawful “for any person engaged in business within this State to sell any article or product at less than the cost thereof to such vendor, or to give away any article or product, for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition” but does not apply “[t]o any service, article or product for which rates are established under the jurisdiction of the [California] Public Utilities Commission [(CPUC)] . . . and sold or furnished by any public utility corporation.” Uber is a “public utility corporation” under section 17024 and is subject to CPUC’s jurisdiction. CPUC has conducted extensive regulatory proceedings in connection with Uber’s business but has not yet established the rates for any Uber service or product.The trial court ruled the exemption applies when the CPUC has jurisdiction to set rates, regardless of whether it has yet done so, and dismissed the case. The court of appeal affirmed, reaching “the same conclusion as to the applicability of section 17024(1) as have three California federal district courts, two within the last year, in cases alleging identical UPA claims against Uber.” View "Uber Technologies Pricing Cases" on Justia Law
Saginaw County. v. STAT Emergency Medical Services, Inc.
Saginaw County has nearly 200,000 residents. A single company, Mobile Medical, has provided the county’s ambulance services since 2009. The county guaranteed Mobile the exclusive right to operate within its borders; Mobile pledged to serve all eight of Saginaw County’s cities and incorporated villages and its 27 rural townships. In 2011, STAT, a competing ambulance company, entered the Saginaw market, providing patient-transport services for an insurer as part of a contract that covered six Michigan counties. A municipality, dissatisfied with Mobile’s response times and fees, hired STAT. When Saginaw County proposed to extend Mobilel’s contract in 2013, STAT objected, arguing that the arrangement violated state law, federal antitrust law, and the Fourteenth Amendment. The county approved Mobile's new contract and enacted an ordinance that codified the exclusivity arrangement but never enforced the ordinance. STAT continued to insist that Michigan law permitted it to offer ambulance services. Saginaw County sought a federal declaratory judgment that Michigan law authorizes the exclusive contract and that it does not violate federal antitrust laws or the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting STAT from operating in the county. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim for lack of jurisdiction. The county failed to establish an actual or imminent injury. Federal courts have the power to tell parties what the law is, not what it might be in potential enforcement actions. View "Saginaw County. v. STAT Emergency Medical Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Alarm Detection Systems, Inc. v. Orland Fire Protection District
Four Illinois Villages passed ordinances that require commercial buildings to send fire-alarm signals directly to the local 911 dispatch center through one alarm-system provider, Tyco, which services the area pursuant to an exclusive agreement with the dispatch center. An alarm-system competitor, ADS, sued, citing the Illinois Fire Protection District Act, the Sherman Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Sherman Act claims fail because they are premised on the unilateral actions of the Villages, which ADS did not sue. The court noted that ADS can compete for the contract now held by Tyco. ADS’s substantive due process claim asserted that the district acted arbitrarily and irrationally by going with an exclusive provider rather than entertaining ADS’s efforts at alternative, methods. The ordinances effectively require the district to work with an exclusive provider and there was thus a rational basis to choose an exclusive provider. View "Alarm Detection Systems, Inc. v. Orland Fire Protection District" on Justia Law
Booker v. Pfizer, Inc.
In 2009, Pfizer, settled claims that it had violated the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729, and entered into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Months later, Booker and Hebron, former Pfizer sales representatives, brought a qui tam action, allegedly on behalf of the United States and several states, asserting that Pfizer had continued to violate the FCA and state analogues. They alleged that Pfizer had continued to knowingly induce third parties to file false claims for payment for Pfizer drugs with government programs like Medicaid by marketing the drug Geodon for off-label uses, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 301, and paying doctors kickbacks for prescribing the drugs Geodon and Pristiq, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(b), (g). They also alleged that Pfizer had violated the FCA "reverse false claims" provision, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1)(G), by failing to pay the government money owed it under Pfizer's Agreement with HHS, and that Pfizer had violated the FCA's anti-retaliation provision, by terminating Booker's employment. All of these claims were resolved against relators, one on a motion to dismiss and the rest on summary judgment. None of the sovereigns intervened. The First Circuit affirmed the merits decisions and found no error in its management of discovery. The court found relators’ data “woefully inadequate to support their FCA claim.” View "Booker v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law
Gatt Communications, Inc. v. PMC Associates, L.L.C.
This case involved an alleged bid-rigging scheme that sought to defraud various New York State and City government agencies in connection with the purchase by those agencies of a particular brand of mobile radio. Gatt, an admitted past participant in the purported scheme, sought to recover damages from alleged co-conspirators for losses arising from the termination of Gatt's at-will distribution contract for those radios. Gatt raised federal and state antitrust claims arising under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1; the Donnelly Act, N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law 340; and New York common law. The court concluded that Gatt lacked antitrust standing to pursue its antitrust claims and that its common law claims were properly dismissed as a matter of law. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Gatt's complaint.View "Gatt Communications, Inc. v. PMC Associates, L.L.C." on Justia Law
Salt Lake City Corp. v. Big Ditch Irrigation Co.
In a 1905 water exchange agreement, Big Ditch Irrigation Company conveyed its Big Cottonwood Creek water right to the Salt Lake City Corporation in exchange for the City's commitment to supply Big Ditch with a specified quantity of irrigation-quality water from City sources. Concerned that Big Ditch was infringing upon the City's water rights, the City initiated this case against Big Ditch and four Big Ditch shareholders in district court. The City sought declaratory judgment on several issues. Big Ditch and the shareholders counterclaimed. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City on most major issues. On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the district court properly dismissed the defendants' counterclaims and correctly concluded that the City holds title to the water rights conveyed in the agreement. The Court held, however, that the district court erred in (1) determining that Big Ditch did not have a right to file change applications; (2) determining that the parties had modified the agreement or, alternatively, that Big Ditch was estopped from enforcing its right to the amount of water specified in the agreement; and (3) refusing to dismiss the City's claims against the shareholders.View "Salt Lake City Corp. v. Big Ditch Irrigation Co." on Justia Law
Erie Cnty. v. Morton Salt Co.
Erie County filed a purported class action on behalf of itself and other counties in northern Ohio, claiming that Morton and Cargill conspired to fix the price of rock salt in northern Ohio by geographically dividing the market and excluding competition, in violation of Ohio’s Valentine Act (Ohio Rev. Code 1331.01-1331.15), analogous to federal antitrust statutes, including the Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. 1-7). The district court dismissed, finding that the alleged facts were just as consistent with lawful parallel conduct as with a conspiracy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The alleged “failure to compete” indicates no more than a natural and independent desire to avoid a turf war and preserve profits guaranteed by regional dominance. Erie County’s concession that it was not bound by the “Buy Ohio” law defeated its claim of conspiracy evidenced by submission of sham bids. View "Erie Cnty. v. Morton Salt Co." on Justia Law
United States v. Fenzl
Following published stories about an investigation of their business practices, principals of a waste-management company improved their chances of winning a bid for a contract to refurbish garbage carts for the City of Chicago by slashing their bid. They encouraged other companies to bid in hopes of being hired as a subcontractor if another company won the bid. Each bidder had to certify that it had not entered into any agreement with any other bidder or prospective bidder relating to the price, nor any agreement restraining free competition among bidders. The company won the bid, and after a Justice Department investigation for antitrust violations, the principals were convicted of mail and wire fraud. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that the purpose of "colluding" with other potential bidders had not been to prevent them from underbidding but to provide insurance against the bid being rejected based on the earlier investigation. There was no harm as a result of the company encouraging additional bidders. View "United States v. Fenzl" on Justia Law