Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
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
Georgia-Pacific Consumer Prods., LP v. Four-U-Packaging, Inc.
Georgia-Pacific sued Four-U-Packaging, alleging that Four-U’s supply of off-brand paper towels for use in Georgia-Pacific paper-towel dispensers infringed on its trademarks. Four-U distributes paper and janitorial supplies; it does not manufacturer commercial paper systems. Four-U argued that the claims were barred by the ruling in a similar case brought by Georgia-Pacific in Arkansas against a different distributor of generic paper towels. The district court granted summary judgment to Four-U. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. All of the elements of issue preclusion are met and applying the doctrine poses no risk of creating inconsistent rulings. View "Georgia-Pacific Consumer Prods., LP v. Four-U-Packaging, Inc." on Justia Law
N.V.E., Inc. v. Innovation Ventures, LLC
LE, creator of the “5-hour ENERGY” energy shot, asserted that N.V.E., creator of the “6 Hour POWER” energy shot, infringed its trademark, under the Lanham Act. 15 U.S.C. 125(a). LE distributed a “recall notice” stating that NVE’s “‘6 Hour’ energy shot” had been recalled. NVE claims that the notice constituted false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act and anti-competitive conduct in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2. The district court first found that a likelihood of confusion did not exist between “6 Hour POWER” and “5-hour ENERGY” and held that the recall notice did not constitute false advertising or a violation of the Sherman Act. The Sixth Circuit reversed with respect to trademark infringement and false advertising claims, but affirmed with respect to Sherman Act claims. The “5-hour ENERGY” mark is suggestive and protectable, but the factors concerning likelihood of confusion were closely balanced, making summary judgment in appropriate. There were also unresolved questions of fact as to whether the “recall notice” was misleading, but there was no Sherman Act violation because it was relatively simple for NVE to counter it by sending notices that “6 Hour POWER” had not been recalled. View "N.V.E., Inc. v. Innovation Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law
Static Control Components, Inc v. Lexmark Int’l, Inc.
Lexmark manufactures printers and toner cartridges. Remanufacturers acquire used Lexmark cartridges, refill them, and sell them at a lower cost. Lexmark developed microchips for the cartridges and the printers so that Lexmark printers will reject cartridges not containing a matching microchip and patented certain aspects of the cartridges. SC began replicating the microchips and selling them to remanufacturers along with other parts for repair and resale of Lexmark toner cartridges. Lexmark sued SC for copyright violations related to its source code in making the duplicate microchips and obtained a preliminary injunction. SC counterclaimed under federal and state antitrust and false-advertising laws. While that suit was pending, SC redesigned its microchips and sued Lexmark for declaratory judgment to establish that the redesigned microchips did not infringe any copyright. Lexmark counterclaimed again for copyright violations and added patent counterclaims. The suits were consolidated. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction and rejected Lexmark’s copyright theories. On remand, the court dismissed all SC counterclaims. A jury held that SC did not induce patent infringement and advised that Lexmark misused its patents. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of federal antitrust claims, but reversed dismissal of SC’s claims under the Lanham Act and certain state law claims. View "Static Control Components, Inc v. Lexmark Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law
Katz v. Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins.
Plaintiffs sued behalf of themselves and all other purchasers of title insurance in Ohio from March 2004 through the present. They alleged that 22 title-insurance companies and the Ohio Title Insurance Rating Bureau violated antitrust laws (Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1; Ohio Rev. Code 1331.01) by conspiring to set unreasonably high title-insurance rates. The title-insurance companies filed rates with the Ohio Department of Insurance through OTIRB, a properly licensed rating bureau. Plaintiffs claimed that it was impossible for the Department to review the reasonableness of the rates collectively set by defendants because those rates are based principally on undisclosed costs, which allegedly included “kickbacks, referral fees and other expenses designed to solicit business referrals.” The district court dismissed, holding that the filed-rate doctrine applied to title insurance, and foreclosed claims for monetary damages and that Ohio statutes (Title XXXIX) completely foreclosed federal and state antitrust claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that there are at least 45 similar cases, nationwide. The filed-rate doctrine, which limits antitrust remedies available to private parties, is irrelevant because the actions are barred by state law. View "Katz v. Fidelity Nat'l Title Ins." 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
Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj
Plaintiffs are among the world’s largest purchasers of air conditioning and refrigeration copper tubing. Defendants imported ACR copper into the U.S. In 2003 the Commission of the European Communities found that defendants and other conspired on prices targets and other terms for industrial tubes and allocated customers and market shares in violation of European law. The findings did not identify any conspiratorial agreements with respect to U.S. markets. In 2004, another EC decision found violation in the market for plumbing tubes. Plaintiff claimed that the European conspiracy was also directed at the U.S. market for ACR industrial tubes, violating the Sherman Act and the Tennessee Trade Practices Act. Two similar cases, involving different plaintiffs, had been dismissed. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the complaint adequately stated a claim under the Sherman Act and was not barred by the Act's limitations period, 15 U.S.C. 15b and that the court had personal jurisdiction. The fact that the complaint borrows its substance from the EC decision and then builds on the EC’s findings does not render its allegations any less valid.View "Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj" on Justia Law
VIBO Corp., Inc. v. Conway
A 1998 settlement (MSA), between states and large tobacco companies (OPMs) included incentives for non-parties to join, but OPMs retained the most favorable payment terms. The MSA permitted states to enact statutes requiring nonparticipants to make deposits into escrows to be held for 25 years, in case a state obtained a future judgment against that nonparticipant. The MSA ensured that OPMs retained favored treatment over other participants. Plaintiff entered the market in 2000, as a nonparticipant, paying into state escrow accounts. As escrow payments became more burdensome, Plaintiff joined the MSA after negotiating a back-payment and future payments. During negotiations, defendants denied Plaintiff information about payment reductions granted to grandfathered companies. Plaintiff, unhappy with the disparate treatment and unable to meet its obligations, was unable to negotiate better terms because of an MSA provision that would entitle other participants to more favorable terms if such terms were granted to a late-joiner. Plaintiff sued tobacco manufacturers and attorneys general, alleging antitrust (15 U.S.C. 1, 3 (a)) and constitutional violations. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Manufacturer defendants were immunized under the Noerr-Pennington and state-action doctrines. Plaintiff's waivers were knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, regardless of representations made during negotiations. View "VIBO Corp., Inc. v. Conway" on Justia Law
Bellsouth Telecomm., Inc. v. KY Pub. Serv. Comm’n
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires incumbent local exchange carriers to lease to new competitive LECs, unbundled, at cost, facilities and services (elements) that the FCC deems necessary to provide local telephone service, 47 U.S.C. 251(c)(3), (d)(2). Section 271 requires "Bell operating" companies that seek to provide long-distance service, such as AT&T, to make available a competitive checklist of services to facilitate competition in the local phone service market. In response to regulatory developments, Kentucky competitive LECs asked the state commission to require AT&T to continue de-listed elements. The commission agreed. A district court enjoined enforcement and ordered the commission to calculate the amount a competitive LEC owed AT&T for services obtained at the unlawfully imposed rate. The commission issued another order requiring AT&T to provide de-listed elements at a regulated rate. The court entered another injunction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding conclusions that the commission may not require continued unbundling of de-listed elements; that FCC regulations do not require AT&T to provide to competitive LECs equipment known as a line splitter; and that FCC regulations do not require AT&T to provide unbundled access to high-speed fiber-optic loops in new service areas. LECs, upon request, must package unbundled network elements provided under section 251 with elements mandated only by section 271View "Bellsouth Telecomm., Inc. v. KY Pub. Serv. Comm'n" on Justia Law
Watson Carpet & Floor Covering v. Mohawk Indus., Inc.
In 2007, plaintiff, a carpet dealer, settled state law claims against a competing dealer and a manufacturer, alleging slander and refusal to deal arising from a 1998 agreement between the defendants. The federal district court subsequently dismissed claims under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, based on continuing refusal to deal. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The plaintiff adequately alleged an ongoing conspiracy to restrain trade and that the defendants acted on their agreement after the settlement. Although the lawsuit was a plausible alternative reason for refusal to deal, conspiracies are presumed to be ongoing and the allegation was sufficient for the pleadings stage. The 2007 settlement did not bar the claims because it did not effectuate a withdrawal from the conspiracy. The defendants took no actions inconsistent with a continuing conspiracy. View "Watson Carpet & Floor Covering v. Mohawk Indus., Inc." on Justia Law