Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
EPIC GAMES, INC. V. APPLE, INC.
Epic Games, Inc. sued Apple, Inc. pursuant to the Sherman Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Epic contends that Apple acted unlawfully by restricting app distribution on iOS devices to Apple’s App Store, requiring in-app purchases on iOS devices to use Apple’s in-app payment processor, and limiting the ability of app developers to communicate the availability of alternative payment options to iOS device users. Apple counter-sued for breach of contract and indemnification for its attorney fees arising from this litigation. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment, after a bench trial, against Epic Games on its Sherman Act claims for restraint of trade, tying, and monopoly maintenance against Apple, Inc.; in favor of Epic on its UCL claim; against Epic on Apple’s claim for breach of contract; and against Apple on its claim for attorney fees. The panel affirmed except for the district court’s ruling respecting attorney fees, where it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The panel affirmed the district court’s denial of antitrust liability and its corresponding rejection of Epic’s illegality defense to Apple’s breach of contract counter-claim. The panel held that the district court erred as a matter of law in defining the relevant antitrust market, but those errors were harmless. The panel held that independent of the district court’s errors, Epic failed to establish, as a factual matter, its proposed market definition and the existence of any substantially less restrictive alternative means for Apple to accomplish the procompetitive justifications supporting iOS’s walled garden ecosystem. View "EPIC GAMES, INC. V. APPLE, INC." on Justia Law
HONEY BUM, LLC V. FASHION NOVA, INC., ET AL
Honey Bum, a rival fast-fashion retailer, alleged that Fashion Nova organized a per se unlawful group boycott by threatening to stop purchasing from certain clothing vendors unless they, in turn, stopped selling to Honey Bum. The district court granted summary judgment on Honey Bum’s Sherman Act § 1 group boycott claim, concluding that Honey Bum failed to create a material dispute as to the existence of a horizontal agreement between the vendors themselves, to boycott Honey Bum. The district court also granted summary judgment on Honey Bum’s California business tort claims. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Fashion Nova, Inc., et al. in an antitrust action brought by Honey Bum, LLC. The panel held that Sherman Act Section 1 prohibits contracts, combinations, and conspiracies that unreasonably restrain trade. In determining the reasonableness of a restraint, two different kinds of liability standards are considered. Some restraints are unreasonable per se because they always or almost always tend to restrict competition and decrease output. Most restraints, however, are subject to the so-called Rule of Reason, a multi-step, burden-shifting framework. The panel held that a group boycott is an agreement among multiple firms not to deal with another firm (the target). Some group boycotts are per se unlawful, while others are not. The panel affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Honey Bum’s claim for tortious interference with prospective economic relations because that claim required a showing of independent unlawfulness. View "HONEY BUM, LLC V. FASHION NOVA, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
KJERSTI FLAA, ET AL V. HOLLYWOOD FOREIGN PRESS ASSOC., ET AL
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is a California non-profit mutual benefit corporation whose members are involved in reporting for media outlets outside of the United States. The members are offered advantages such as access to Hollywood talent granted by movie studios. The HFPA strictly limits the admission of new members The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of an antitrust action brought by two entertainment journalists who challenged the membership policies of HFPA. The panel affirmed the dismissal of the journalists’ antitrust claims. The journalists alleged that the HFPA’s exclusionary membership practices violated section 1 (restraint of trade) and section 2 (monopolization) of the Sherman Act, as well as California’s Cartwright Act. The panel held that the journalists also failed to state a claim that the HFPA’s practices were unlawful under a rule of reason analysis. The panel held that the journalists did not state a claim of per se liability based on a horizontal market division agreement because this theory was inconsistent with statements in the complaint that the HFPA’s members do not participate in the same product market. The panel held that, under a rule of reason analysis, the journalists failed to allege that the HFPA had market power in any reasonably defined market. The panel also affirmed the dismissal of the journalists’ claim based on California’s right of fair procedure, which protects, in certain situations, against arbitrary decisions by private organizations. View "KJERSTI FLAA, ET AL V. HOLLYWOOD FOREIGN PRESS ASSOC., ET AL" on Justia Law
DREAMSTIME.COM, LLC V. GOOGLE LLC
Dreamstime alleged that Google violated Section 2 of the Sherman Act by maintaining a monopoly in the online search advertising market. Dreamstime asserted that Google furthered this monopoly by impeding Dreamstime’s use of Google’s paid advertising services as well as harming Dreamstime’s performance on Google’s free search engine. The district court dismissed on the ground that Dreamstime did not sufficiently allege anticompetitive conduct in the relevant market of online search advertising. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of an antitrust claim brought by Dreamstime.com, LLC, an online supplier of stock images, against Google LLC. The panel held that the record did not support Dreamstime’s contention that it defined the relevant market to include the online, organic search market (in addition to the online search advertising market). Rather, by its course of conduct before the district court, Dreamstime waived any Section 2 claim arising from the online search market. The panel affirmed the district court’s conclusion that Dreamstime failed to allege anticompetitive conduct in the online search advertising market. Further, allegations related to Dreamstime’s performance in Google’s unpaid, organic search results did not plausibly state a claim for anticompetitive conduct in the online search advertising market. Dreamstime’s allegation that Google unlawfully captured data from users and advertisers also did not state anticompetitive behavior. Finally, the panel held that the district court properly dismissed Dreamstime’s Section 2 claim with prejudice and without leave to amend. View "DREAMSTIME.COM, LLC V. GOOGLE LLC" on Justia Law
THE PLS.COM, LLC V. NAR
Plaintiff challenged the National Association of Realtors’ ("NAR") Clear Cooperation Policy, which required members of a NAR-affiliated multiple listing service who chose to list properties on the Plaintiff’s real estate database also to list those properties on an MLS. The district court dismissed on the ground that Plaintiff did not, and could not, adequately allege antitrust injury under Section 1 of the Sherman Act or California’s Cartwright Act because it did not allege harm to home buyers and sellers. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of an action brought by Plaintiff alleging that its competitors in the real estate network services market violated antitrust laws because they conspired to take anti-competitive measures to prevent Plaintiffs from gaining a foothold in the market. The court held that Plaintiff adequately alleged a violation of Sherman Act Section 1, which prohibits a contract, combination, or conspiracy that unreasonably restrains trade. The court held that Plaintiff adequately alleged that the Clear Cooperation Policy was an unreasonable restraint of trade because it was a per se group boycott, but the court left it to the district court to determine in the first instance whether it should apply per se or rule of reason analysis at later stages in the litigation. View "THE PLS.COM, LLC V. NAR" on Justia Law
JEFFREY SULITZER V. JOSEPH TIPPINS
A dentist, his professional corporation, and a teledentistry company (collectively "Plaintiffs") alleged that the Dental Board of California conspired to harass them with unfounded investigations. Plaintiffs alleged that the harassment arose after they developed an online service model for patients. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ claims under the Dormant Commerce Clause. The court reasoned that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged Article III standing because they alleged an injury that was traceable to Defendants’ challenged conduct. Further, the court found that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged anticompetitive concerted action. The court rejected the proposition that regulatory board members and employees cannot form an anticompetitive conspiracy. Further, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ claim that Defendants subjected them to disparate treatment in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The court explained that a class-of-one plaintiff must be similarly situated to the proposed comparator. Here, Plaintiffs did not meet this standard because instead of claiming they stood the same as others, they touted their differences. The court did not review the lower court’s denial of state-action immunity. View "JEFFREY SULITZER V. JOSEPH TIPPINS" on Justia Law
TRENDSETTAH USA, INC. V. SWISHER INTERNATIONAL, INC.
The jury returned a verdict against Swisher International, Inc., on Sherman Act and breach of contract claims brought by Trendsettah USA, Inc.Reversing in part, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in granting Swisher’s Rule 60(d) motion based on fraud on the court. The court held that fraud on the court must be established by clear and convincing evidence. The relevant inquiry is whether the fraudulent conduct harmed the integrity of the judicial process rather than whether it prejudiced the opposing party. A party must show willful deception, and mere nondisclosure of evidence is typically not enough to constitute fraud on the court. The court concluded that Swisher presented no clear and convincing evidence that either Trendsettah or its attorneys were responsible for an intentional, material misrepresentation directly aimed at the district court. The court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Trendsettah’s breach of contract claims and remanded with instructions to reinstate the jury’s verdict on those claims.The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting Swisher’s motion for relief from judgment premised on newly discovered evidence and fraud under Rule 60(b)(2) and (b)(3), concerning Trendsettah’s antitrust claims. The court held that the Rule 60(b) motion was timely under Rule 60(c)(1)’s one-year limitation period, which restarted because the prior appellate decision substantially altered the district court’s judgment. The court concluded that Swisher met the standard for relief from judgment because Trendsettah’s tax evasion was relevant to antitrust liability and damages. View "TRENDSETTAH USA, INC. V. SWISHER INTERNATIONAL, INC." on Justia Law
OLEAN WHOLESALE GROCERY CO-OP V. BUMBLE BEE FOODS LLC
The en banc court filed an opinion affirming the district court’s order certifying three subclasses of direct tuna purchasers (“DPP”) who alleged that the suppliers violated federal and state antitrust laws. The circuit court agreed with the district court and held that the purchasers’ statistical regression model was capable of showing that a price-fixing conspiracy caused class-wide antitrust impact.Plaintiffs must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the facts necessary to carry the burden of establishing that the prerequisites of Rule 23 are satisfied. The court held that in making the determinations necessary to find that the prerequisites of Rule 23(b)(3) are satisfied, the district court may weigh conflicting expert testimony and resolve expert disputes. Further, the court found when individualized questions relate to the injury status of class members, Rule 23(b)(3) requires that the court determine whether individualized inquiries about such matters would predominate. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class. Further, it held that the court did not err in determining that the evidence presented by the DPPs proved: (1) antitrust impact was capable of being established class-wide through common proof, and (2) that this common question predominated over individual questions. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the evidence presented by the “CFP” class of indirect purchasers of bulk-sized tuna products and the “EPP” class of individual end purchasers was capable of proving the element of antitrust impact. View "OLEAN WHOLESALE GROCERY CO-OP V. BUMBLE BEE FOODS LLC" on Justia Law
Sulitzer v. Tippins
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
Indirect Purchaser Plaintiffs v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action alleging an antitrust conspiracy under Section 1 of the Sherman Act by three of the largest manufacturers of dynamic random access memory (DRAM). Plaintiffs allege that defendants conspired to coordinate their actions when they contemporaneously reduced their DRAM production in 2016, basing their theory on defendants' parallel business conduct and various "plus factor" allegations that they claim further suggest a preceding agreement. The panel concluded that plaintiffs' allegations do not amount to the "something more" required by the panel's precedent to make their claims plausible. In this case, while both parties' explanations for defendants' actions are conceivable, plaintiffs failed to allege additional facts that push their theory over "the line between possibility and plausibility." View "Indirect Purchaser Plaintiffs v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd." on Justia Law