Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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
Ellis v. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District
The district court dismissed a suit alleging that a price plan adopted by Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (SRP) unlawfully discriminated against customers with solar-energy systems and was designed to stifle competition in the electricity market.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, applying Arizona’s notice-of-claim statute, which provides that persons who have claims against a public entity, such as SRP, must file with the entity a claim containing a specific amount for which the claim can be settled.The district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ equal protection claim as barred by Arizona’s two-year statute of limitations. The claim did not accrue when SRP approved the price plan, but rather when plaintiffs received a bill under the new rate structure. The plaintiffs alleged a series of violations, each of which gave rise to a new claim and began a new limitations period.Monopolization and attempted monopolization claims under the Sherman Act were not barred by the filed-rate doctrine, which bars individuals from asserting civil antitrust challenges to an entity’s agency-approved rates. SRP was not entitled to state-action immunity because Arizona had not articulated a policy to displace competition.The Local Government Antitrust Act shielded SRP from federal antitrust damages because SRP is a special functioning governmental unit but the Act does not bar declaratory or injunctive relief. The district court erred in concluding that plaintiffs failed to adequately allege antitrust injury based on the court’s finding that the price plan actually encouraged competition in alternative energy investment. View "Ellis v. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District" on Justia Law
Optronic Technologies, Inc. v. Ningbo Sunny Electronic Co. Ltd.
Orion sued, alleging that Sunny violated federal antitrust law and California laws by conspiring with its horizontal competitor Synta to fix prices and allocate the telescope market. A jury awarded Orion $16.8 million.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part. The district court properly admitted the expert report and testimony of Orion’s telescope manufacturing and damages experts and properly excluded Sunny's rebuttal expert testimony. On the Sherman Act section 1 claims, sufficient evidence established that Sunny conspired with Synta to ensure that Sunny acquired another telescope manufacturer, to protect their market share; conspired with a competitor to fix prices or credit terms; and agreed with Synta either not to compete or to divide customers. The evidence also supported the Sherman Act section 2 verdict on attempted monopolization and conspiracy to monopolize; the verdict did not depend on an improper joint monopoly theory. Orion sufficiently defined the relevant market; sufficient evidence supported findings that Sunny expressed a specific intent to gain monopoly power and was dangerously close to attaining monopoly power.Affirming as to Orion’s Clayton Act section 7 claim, the court upheld the finding of a reasonable likelihood that Sunny’s acquisition of a competitor would substantially reduce competition or create a monopoly. The jury’s finding as to damages was neither grossly excessive unsupported, nor the result of guesswork. The district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing injunctive relief under Clayton Act section 16. Vacating in part, the court held that the district court abused its discretion by excluding a declaration in support of Sunny’s motion to amend the judgment with regard to the valuation of a settlement set-off. View "Optronic Technologies, Inc. v. Ningbo Sunny Electronic Co. Ltd." on Justia Law
City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders
The City of Oakland sued the NFL and its member teams, alleging that the defendants created artificial scarcity in their product (NFL teams), and used that scarcity to demand supra-competitive prices from host cities. The city alleged that when it could not pay those prices, the defendants punished it by allowing the Raiders to move to Las Vegas.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. While the city had Article III standing because it plausibly alleged that, but for the defendants’ conduct, it would have retained the Raiders, the defendants’ conduct did not amount to an unreasonable restraint of trade under section 1 of the Sherman Act. The city failed sufficiently to allege a group boycott, which occurs when multiple producers refuse to sell goods or services to a particular customer, alleging only that a single producer, the Raiders, refused to deal with it. The city also failed sufficiently to allege statutory standing on a theory that the defendants’ conduct constituted an unlawful horizontal price-fixing scheme. A finding of antitrust standing requires balancing the nature of the plaintiff’s alleged injury, the directness of the injury, the speculative measure of the harm, the risk of duplicative recovery, and the complexity in apportioning damages; here, the city was priced out of the market and was a nonpurchaser. Any damages were highly speculative and would be exceedingly difficult to calculate. View "City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders" on Justia Law
CDK Global LLC v. Brnovich
A 2019 Arizona statute prohibits auto dealer management system (DMS) providers from “tak[ing] any action by contract, technical means or otherwise to prohibit or limit a dealer’s ability to protect, store, copy, share or use” data the dealer has stored in its DMS. DMS providers may not impose charges “beyond any direct costs incurred” for database access. DMS providers may not prohibit the third parties contracted by the dealers “from integrating into the dealer’s data system,” nor may they otherwise “plac[e] an unreasonable restriction on integration.” DMS providers must “[a]dopt and make available a standardized framework for the exchange, integration, and sharing of data” with authorized integrators.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against the statute’s enforcement. There is no conflict preemption; the statute and the federal Copyright Act are not irreconcilable. The statute does not conflict with 17 U.S.C. 106(1), which grants the owner of a copyrighted work the exclusive right “to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.” The plaintiffs forfeited their claim that the statute impaired their contracts with third-party vendors and did not show that the statute impaired their ability to discharge their contractual duty to keep dealer data confidential. The statute was reasonably drawn to serve important public purposes of promoting consumer data privacy and competition and amounted to neither a per se physical taking nor a regulatory taking. View "CDK Global LLC v. Brnovich" on Justia Law
Stromberg v. Qualcomm, Inc.
The district court certified a nationwide indirect purchaser class in antitrust multidistrict litigation seeking injunctive and monetary relief under sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act and California law against Qualcomm. The suit alleged that Qualcomm maintained a monopoly in electronic chips by engaging in a “no-license-no-chips” policy and sold chips only at above-FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) royalty rates; refusing to license its standard-essential patents to rival chip suppliers; and entering into exclusive dealing arrangements with Apple. The plaintiffs, consumers who bought cellphones, alleged that Qualcomm’s monopoly harmed consumers because the amount attributable to an allegedly excessive royalty was passed through the distribution chain to consumers.The Ninth Circuit vacated. The court noted its 2020 holding, FTC v. Qualcomm, that Qualcomm’s modem chip licensing practices did not violate the Sherman Act and that its exclusive dealing agreements with Apple did not substantially foreclose competition. The class was erroneously certified under a faulty choice of law analysis because differences in relevant state laws swamped predominance. California’s choice of law rules precluded the district court’s certification of the nationwide Rule 23(b)(3) class because other states’ laws, beyond California’s Cartwright Act, should apply. As a result, common issues of law did not predominate in the class as certified. View "Stromberg v. Qualcomm, Inc." on Justia Law
Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. v. AMN Healthcare, Inc.
In 2010, AMN Healthcare contracted with Aya Healthcare to provide travel nursing services to healthcare facilities. The contract prohibited Aya from soliciting AMN’s employees. In 2015, Aya began actively soliciting AMN’s travel nurse recruiters. AMN temporarily terminated Aya’s access to AMN’s platform. The parties ended their relationship. Aya filed suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, 2, including a “per se” claim and a quick-look/rule-of-reason claim and claims for attempted monopolization and monopolization, and state law tortious interference and other claims. Aya claimed that it suffered exclusionary damages as a result of AMN’s non-solicitation covenant and retaliatory damages as a result of AMN’s termination of the relationship.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of AMN. The non-solicitation agreement is an ancillary, rather than a naked restraint, because it is reasonably necessary to the parties’ procompetitive collaboration; it is not per se unlawful but is subject to the rule-of-reason standard. Aya failed to satisfy its initial burden under that standard because it did not establish a triable issue of fact with respect to whether AMN’s nonsolicitation agreement has a substantial anticompetitive effect that harms consumers in the relevant market. Aya’s claim for retaliatory damages failed because it did not present any evidence of a cartel or a concerted action in the termination of the agreement. View "Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. v. AMN Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law
Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, of Axon's action alleging that the FTC's administrative enforcement process violated the company's constitutional rights. In this case, the FTC investigated and filed an administrative complaint challenging Axon's acquisition of a competitor, demanding that Axon spin-off its newly acquired company and provide it with Axon's own intellectual property. The district court dismissed the complaint after determining that the FTC's statutory scheme requires Axon to raise its constitutional challenge first in the administrative proceeding.The panel held that the Supreme Court's Thunder Basin trilogy of cases mandates dismissal. The panel explained that the structure of the Federal Trade Commission Act suggests that Congress impliedly barred jurisdiction in district court and required parties to move forward first in the agency proceeding. Because the FTC statutory scheme ultimately allows Axon to present its constitutional challenges to a federal court of appeals after the administrative proceeding, the panel concluded that Axon has not suffered any cognizable harm. Therefore, the panel joined every other circuit that has addressed a similar issue in ruling that Congress impliedly stripped the district court of jurisdiction. View "Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law
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