Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
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
TLS Management & Marketing Services, LLC v. Rodriguez-Toledo
The First Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to TLS Management and Marketing Services, LLC (TLS) on its breach of contract claims against Ricky Rodriguez-Toledo, ASG Accounting Solutions Group, Inc. (ASG), and Global Outsourcing Services, LLC (GOS) and the court's finding that Rodriguez and ASG were liable for misappropriation of trade secrets, holding that TLS failed to prove its trade secret claims, and the nondisclosure agreements were unenforceable.Rodriguez was the founder of ASG, a company that, like TLS, offered services in tax planning. ASG signed a subcontractor agreement with TLS that included a nondisclosure provision. Rodriguez later began working for TLS and signed a nondisclosure agreement. After his departure from TLS Rodriguez provided tax services in competition with TLS through ASG and GOS. TLS alleged that Rodriguez and ASG misappropriated TLS's trade secrets and that Rodriguez, ASG, and GOS breached their nondisclosure agreements. The district court granted summary judgment to TLS on the breach of contract claims. After a non-jury trial on the trade secret claims, the district court found in favor of TLS. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) TLS failed to satisfy its burden to prove the existence of trade secrets; and (2) the nondisclosure agreements were so broad as to be unenforceable. View "TLS Management & Marketing Services, LLC v. Rodriguez-Toledo" on Justia Law
Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc.
The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing, for failure to state a claim, Plaintiff's complaint alleging that, by labeling Wesson brand vegetable oil (Wesson Oil) "100% Natural," Conagra Brands, Inc. violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, holding that Plaintiff's complaint clearly alleged a Chapter 93A injury for pleading purposes.After learning that Wesson Oil contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Plaintiff sued Conagra, the manufacturer and distributor, alleging that, by labeling the oil "100% Natural," Conagra violated Massachusetts's prohibition against unfair or deceptive trade practices. The federal district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, concluding that Wesson Oil's label was neither unfair nor deceptive because it conformed to the Food and Drug Administration's labeling policy. The First Circuit reversed, holding that Plaintiff's claim may proceed because Plaintiff plausibly alleged that a reasonable consumer might think that the phrase "100% Natural" means that a product contains no GMOs, and then base her purchasing decision on that belief. View "Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc." 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
Teamsters Union 25 Health Services & Insurance Plan v. Warner Chilcott Limited
The First Circuit reversed the district court’s certification of a class of all purchasers of Asacol, including purchasers who had not suffered any injury attributable to Defendants’ allegedly anticompetitive behavior, holding that the district court’s approach to certifying a class was at odds with both Supreme Court precedent and the law of this circuit.Drug manufacturer Warner Chilcott Limited’s coordinated withdrawal and entry of two drugs, Asacol and the similar drug called Delzicol, precluded generic manufacturers from introducing a generic version of Asacol, which would have provided a lower-cost alternative to Warner’s drugs, Delzicol and Asacol HD. Plaintiffs filed a class action alleging violations of the consumer protection and antitrust laws of twenty-five states and the District of Columbia. The district court certified a class of all Asacol purchasers who subsequently purchased Delzicol or Asacol HD in one of those twenty-six jurisdictions, finding that while ten percent of the class had not suffered any injury, those uninjured class members could be removed in a proceeding conducted by a claims administrator. The First Circuit reversed, holding that where injury-in-fact is a required element of an antitrust action, a class cannot be certified based on an expectation that the defendant will have no opportunity to press at trial genuine challenges to allegations of injury-in-fact. View "Teamsters Union 25 Health Services & Insurance Plan v. Warner Chilcott Limited" on Justia Law
Gustavsen v. Alcon Laboratories, Inc.
The First Circuit held that federal law requires prior FDA approval for a manufacturer of prescription eye drops to change the medication’s bottle so as to alter the amount of medication dispensed into the eye, and therefore, state law claims challenging the manufacturers’ refusal to make this change are preempted.Plaintiff sued in federal court on their own behalf and on behalf of a putative class of prescription eye solution purchasers, asserting that Defendants deliberately designed their dispensers to emit unnecessarily large drops. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants’ practice was “unfair” under Massachusetts state law and twenty-five other states and allied claims for unjust enrichment and for “money had and received.” The district court dismissed the complaint without ruling on the merits, finding that FDA regulations preempted Plaintiffs’ suit. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) changing a product bottle so as to dispense a different amount of prescription eye solution is a “major change” under 21 C.F.R. 314.70(b); and (2) therefore, Plaintiffs’ state law claims were preempted. View "Gustavsen v. Alcon Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law
United Food & Commercial Workers Unions & Employers Midwest Health Benefits Fund v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.
In these consolidated appeals from orders dismissing two putative antitrust class actions, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court holding that purchasers of a brand-name prescription drug had not plausibly alleged that either exception to Noerr-Pennington immunity applied to the alleged conduct of the drug maker and, on that basis, dismissing the putative class actions for failure to state a claim.Plaintiffs filed these antitrust actions alleging that Defendant unlawfully delayed the entry of generic versions of the drug at issue into the United States market by a fraud on the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Defendant moved to dismiss the actions, arguing that there was no fraud and claiming that it was immune from antitrust liability based on the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. See United Mine Workers of America v. Pennington, 381 U.S. 657 (1965). The district court dismissed the putative class actions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), concluding that Noerr-Pennington immunity applied to Defendant’s alleged conduct and that the two exceptions to the immunity did not apply here. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that there was no reason to disturb the district court’s ruling dismissing Plaintiffs’ antitrust suits for failure to state a claim. View "United Food & Commercial Workers Unions & Employers Midwest Health Benefits Fund v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp." on Justia Law
Puerto Rico Telephone Co. v. San Juan Cable LLC
The First Circuit agreed with the judgment of the district court that the facts in this case alleging unlawful monopolization could not subject San Juan Cable LLC, doing business as “OneLink,” to liability under the so-called “sham” exception to the Noerr-Pennington immunity.Puerto Rico Telephone Company (PRTC) sought permission from the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board (TRB) to offer internet protocol television services to Puerto Rico residents. OneLink, which provided cable television service to residents of several municipalities in Puerto Rico, petitioned the TRB and other governmental tribunals and officials, to impede PRTC’s efforts. PRTC eventually obtained the requested permission from the TRB. Thereafter, PRTC filed this antitrust action claiming that OneLink’s interference with its permitting efforts constituted unlawful monopolization and attempted monopolization. The district court granted summary judgment to OneLink, concluding that OneLink’s actions were immune from suit under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine, which conditionally protects the right to petition the government. On appeal, PRTC argued that the facts could support a finding that OneLink abused its right to petition and could be found liable under the sham exception to Noerr-Pennington immunity. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the facts in this case could not subject OneLink to liability under the sham exception. View "Puerto Rico Telephone Co. v. San Juan Cable LLC" on Justia Law