Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Federal Trade Commission v. Qualcomm Inc.
The FTC alleged that Qualcomm violated the Sherman Act by unreasonably restraining trade in, and unlawfully monopolizing, the code division multiple access (CDMA) and premium long-term evolution (LTE) cellular modem chip markets.The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, and reversed the district court's permanent, worldwide injunction prohibiting several of Qualcomm's core business practices. The panel noted that anticompetitive behavior is illegal under federal antitrust law, but that hypercompetitive behavior is not. The panel explained that its role was to assess whether the FTC has met its burden under the rule of reason to show that Qualcomm's practices have crossed the line to "conduct which unfairly tends to destroy competition itself." The panel concluded that the FTC has not met its burden.The panel held that Qualcomm's practice of licensing its standard essential patents (SEPs) exclusively at the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) level does not amount to anticompetitive conduct in violation of section 2 of the Sherman Act, as Qualcomm is under no antitrust duty to license rival chip suppliers; Qualcomm's patent-licensing royalties and "no license, no chips" policy do not impose an anticompetitive surcharge on rivals' modem chip sales; rather, these aspects of Qualcomm's business model are "chip-supplier neutral" and do not undermine competition in the relevant antitrust markets; Qualcomm's 2011 and 2013 agreements with Apple have not had the actual or practical effect of substantially foreclosing competition in the CDMA modem chip market; and because these agreements were terminated years ago by Apple itself, there is nothing to be enjoined. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Qualcomm Inc." on Justia Law
Ninth Inning, Inc. v. DirecTV
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an antitrust action brought by a putative class of residential and commercial subscribers to DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket. NFL Sunday Ticket is a bundled package of all NFL games available exclusively to subscribers of DirecTV's satellite television service. Plaintiffs claimed that DirecTV's arrangement harms NFL fans because it eliminates competition in the market for live telecasts of NFL games.The panel held that, at this preliminary stage, plaintiffs have stated a cause of action for a violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act that survives a motion to dismiss. In this case, the complaint adequately alleged that DirecTV conspired with the NFL and the NFL Teams to limit the production of telecasts to one per game, and that plaintiffs suffered antitrust injury due to this conspiracy to limit output. The complaint also alleged that defendants conspired to monopolize the market for professional football telecasts and have monopolized it. View "Ninth Inning, Inc. v. DirecTV" on Justia Law
U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Monex Credit Co.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the Commission's enforcement action against Monex for alleged fraud in precious metals sales.The panel held that the actual delivery exception to the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) was an affirmative defense on which the commodities trader bears the burden of proof. Furthermore, "actual deliver" unambiguously requires the transfer of some degree of possession or control. Furthermore, it was possible for this exception to be satisfied when the commodity sits in a third-party depository, but not when, as here, metals are in the broker's chosen depository, never exchange hands, and are subject to the broker's exclusive control, and customers have no substantial, non-contingent interests. Therefore, because this affirmative defense did not, on the face of the complaint bar the Commission from relief on Counts I, II, and IV, the district court erred in dismissing those claims.The panel also held that, by its terms, section 6(c)(1) of the CEA applies broadly to commodities in interstate commerce, and the Commission may sue for fraudulently deceptive activity, regardless of whether it was also manipulative. Furthermore, when someone violates section 6(c)(1), the Commission can bring an enforcement action. The panel accepted as true the Commission's well-pleaded complaint and held that its claims were plausible, remanding for further proceedings. View "U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Monex Credit Co." on Justia Law
FTC v. Consumer Defense, LLC
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order entering a preliminary injunction freezing all of defendants' assets in connection with Consumer Defense Global's loan modification business operations. The Commission filed suit alleging that defendants violated the Federal Trade Commission Act and Regulation O, 12 C.F.R. Part 1015 – Mortgage Assistance Relief Services. In this case, the parties agree that the FTC brought the instant action pursuant to the second proviso of Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, but dispute whether the FTC was required to demonstrate a likelihood of irreparable harm to obtain relief.The panel held that, although in the ordinary case a showing of irreparable harm is required to obtain injunctive relief, no such showing is required when injunctive relief is sought in conjunction with a statutory enforcement action where the applicable statute authorizes injunctive relief. Therefore, the panel held that the district court did not err by granting the motion for preliminary injunction without requiring the FTC to make the traditional showing of irreparable injury. View "FTC v. Consumer Defense, LLC" on Justia Law
DeHoog v. Anheuser-Busch
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by consumers and purchasers of beer under section 7 of the Clayton Act, seeking to enjoin Anheuser-Busch from acquiring SAB. The DOJ required, as a condition of approving the transaction, that SAB divest entirely its domestic beer business.The panel held that plaintiffs failed to state a claim under section 7, because the divestiture left SAB without a presence in the U.S. beer market and thus plaintiffs did not and could not plausibly allege that Annheuser-Busch's acquisition of SAB would substantially lessen competition in that market. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the complaint with prejudice. View "DeHoog v. Anheuser-Busch" on Justia Law
Gold Medal LLC v. USA Track & Field
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action alleging that USATF and the Olympics Committee engaged in an anticompetitive conspiracy in violation of antitrust law when it imposed advertising restrictions during the Olympic Trials for track and field athletes. The panel held that the Olympics Committee and USATF were entitled to implied antitrust immunity on the basis that their advertising restrictions were integral to performance of their duties under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. The panel noted that an injunction preventing enforcement of the advertisement regulation would open the floodgates to potential advertisers, some of which might enhance the Olympic brand and some of which might devalue the Olympic brand. View "Gold Medal LLC v. USA Track & Field" on Justia Law
Arandell Corp. v. CenterPoint Energy Services, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for CES in a class action alleging that natural gas companies colluded to fix retail natural gas prices in Wisconsin. CES, a wholly owned subsidiary of Reliant, asserted that it acted innocently and without knowledge of its parent company's price-fixing scheme.The panel held that Supreme Court precedent established that a parent and a wholly owned subsidiary always have a unity of purpose and thus act as a single enterprise whenever they engage in coordinated activity. Copperweld Corp. v. Indep. Tube Corp., 467 U.S. 752 (1984). In this case, plaintiffs raised a triable issue of CES's anticompetitive intent; plaintiffs' evidence was sufficient to raise a triable issue of whether CES knowingly acted to further the alleged price-fixing scheme; any knowledge of the alleged price-fixing scheme that CES's directors and officers acquired while concurrently acting as directors or officers of the other Reliant companies was imputable to CES as a matter of Wisconsin law; and plaintiffs submitted sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue under the Sherman Act – and Wisconsin Statute 133.03(1) – as to whether CES participated in coordinated activity in furtherance of the alleged inter-enterprise price-fixing conspiracy. View "Arandell Corp. v. CenterPoint Energy Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Hicks v. PGA Tour, Inc.
Professional golf caddies filed suit against the PGA Tour after it required them to wear bibs containing advertisements at professional golfing events. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of all claims with prejudice, holding that the caddies consented to wearing the bibs and that they did not do so under economic duress. Therefore, the caddies failed to state claims for breach of contract and quasi-contract relief, California state law publicity claims, a Lanham Act false endorsement claim, or a plausible economic duress claim. The panel also held that the caddies failed to allege plausibly that the Tour secured their consent through economic duress, and thus the district court properly dismissed the antitrust claims for failure to state a relevant market and the California unfair competition claims for failure to plead that any of the Tour's conduct was unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent. The panel remanded to allow the district court to reconsider whether to grant the caddies leave to amend their federal antitrust and California unfair competition claims. View "Hicks v. PGA Tour, Inc." on Justia Law
U.S. Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Seattle
Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Ordinance 124968, which permits independent-contractor drivers, represented by an entity denominated an "exclusive driver representative," and driver coordinators to agree on the "nature and amount of payments to be made by, or withheld from, the driver coordinator to or by the drivers." The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the Chamber's federal antitrust claims because the ordinance sanctions price-fixing of ride-referral service fees by private cartels of independent-contractor drivers. The panel held that the State-action immunity doctrine did not exempt the ordinance from preemption by the Sherman Act because the State of Washington had not clearly articulated and affirmatively expressed a state policy authorizing private parties to price-fix the fees that for-hire drivers pay to companies like Uber or Lyft in exchange for ride-referral services. Furthermore, the active-supervision requirement for state-action immunity applied, and was not met. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Chamber's National Labor Relations Act preemption claims. View "U.S. Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Seattle" on Justia Law
FTC V. AT&T Mobility, LLC
The en banc court affirmed the district court's denial of AT&T Mobility's motion to dismiss an action brought by the FTC alleging that AT&T's data-throttling plan was unfair and deceptive.After determining that the district court had federal question jurisdiction, the en banc court held that the Federal Trade Commission Act's, 15 U.S.C. 45(a)(1), (2), common-carrier exemption was activity-based, and therefore the phrase "common carriers subject to the Acts to regulate commerce" provided immunity from FTC regulation only to the extent that a common carrier was engaging in common carrier services. The en banc court also held that the FCC's order reclassifying mobile data service did not rob the FTC of its jurisdiction or authority over conduct occurring before the order. View "FTC V. AT&T Mobility, LLC" on Justia Law