Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Healthcare providers often do not purchase medical devices directly from the manufacturer; they join group purchasing organizations (GPOs), which negotiate prices with manufacturers. The provider chooses a distributor to deliver the product. The distributor enters into contracts with the provider and the manufacturer, incorporating the price and other terms that the GPO negotiated, plus a markup for the distributor. A GPO negotiated with Becton (a manufacturer) on the plaintiff-providers’ behalf; a distributor delivered the devices. Had Becton acted alone, selling its products to an independent distributor, which then sold them to a provider, the Supreme Court’s 1977 “Illinois Brick” rule would bar the provider from suing Becton for any alleged monopoly overcharges. Only buyers who purchased products directly from the antitrust violator have a claim for treble damages. The plaintiffs alleged that Becton, the GPOs, and the distributors were in a conspiracy and engaged in various anti-competitive measures, including exclusive-dealing and penalty provisions. Under Brick's conspiracy exception, when a monopolist enters into a conspiracy with its distributors “the first buyer from a conspirator is the right party to sue.” The district court found the conspiracy rule inapplicable because this case did not involve vertical price-fixing. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The relationship between the buyer and the seller, not the nature of the alleged anticompetitive conduct, governs whether the buyer may sue under the antitrust laws. Remand was required because the Providers have failed adequately to allege the necessary conspiracy. View "Marion HealthCare, LLC. v. Becton Dickinson & Co." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs (Sharif Pharmacy, J&S) were members of the Prime pharmacy network, which is owned, in part, by Blue Cross Blue Shield. Under Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance plans, many patients had significant financial incentives to buy their prescription drugs from pharmacies within the network. Prime terminated both plaintiffs from the network after audits uncovered invoicing irregularities. The plaintiffs claimed that their terminations from the Prime network violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1 and 2. Three customers joined the suit, having had to switch to different, less convenient pharmacies. The plaintiffs alleged that the audits were pretextual and that Prime really terminated their participation in its network to get rid of competition with Walgreens, with whom it had entered a joint venture. Prime sent letters to both pharmacies’ customers saying that Sharif and J&S would no longer accept their insurance and recommending that customers have their prescriptions filled at a nearby Walgreens. Prime also retained funds from both pharmacies as a result of the audits. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissals of the cases by two district courts. The individual plaintiffs lacked standing. The pharmacy could not identify an appropriate geographic market where a defendant had or threatened to have monopoly power. View "Sharif Pharmacy Inc. v. Prime Therapeutics LLC" on Justia Law

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Viamedia sued Comcast under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, for using its monopoly power in one service market (Interconnect) to exclude competition and gain monopoly power in another service market (advertising representation) in the Chicago, Detroit, and Hartford geographic markets. Interconnect services are cooperative selling arrangements for advertising through an “Interconnect” that enables retail cable television service providers to sell advertising targeted efficiently at regional audiences. Advertising representation services assist those providers with the sale and delivery of national, regional, and local advertising slots. Viamedia’s evidence indicated Comcast used its monopoly power over the Interconnect to force its smaller retail cable television competitors to stop doing business with Viamedia; Viamedia’s customers for advertising representation (Comcast’s retail cable competitors) switched to Comcast because Comcast presented a choice: either start buying advertising representation services from us and regain access to the Interconnect or keep buying services from Viamedia and stay cut off from the Interconnect they needed to compete effectively. The strategy cost Comcast millions of dollars in the short run but eventually gave it monopoly power in these local markets for advertising representation services. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Viamedia’s case. Giving Viamedia the benefit of its allegations and evidence, this is not a case in which Section 2 is being misused to protect weaker competitors rather than competition more generally. Viamedia has also adequately stated a claim that Comcast has unlawfully refused to deal with Viamedia and any cable competitor that bought advertising representation from Viamedia. View "Viamedia, Inc. v. Comcast Corp." on Justia Law

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For nearly 30 years, Chicago Studio operated the only film studio in Chicago. In 2010, Cinespace opened a new studio. Cinespace rapidly expanded its studio to include 26 more stages and 24 times more floor space than Chicago Studio’s facility. Chicago Studio subsequently failed to attract business and stopped making a profit. Chicago Studio sued the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Film Office, and Steinberg (state actors responsible for promoting the Illinois film industry), alleging that the Defendants unlawfully steered state incentives and business to Cinespace in violation of the Sherman Act and equal protection and due process protections. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of those claims. The Sherman Act claim was properly dismissed because Chicago Studio failed to adequately plead an antitrust injury but merely alleged injuries to Chicago Studio, not to competition. The complaint does not plausibly allege that Defendants conspired to monopolize or attempted to monopolize the Chicago market for operating film studios. The district court properly granted summary judgment on the equal protection claim. Chicago Studio and Cinespace are not similarly situated, and there was a rational basis for Steinberg’s conduct. Cinespace consistently reached out to Steinberg for marketing support; Chicago Studio rarely did and it was rational for Steinberg to promote the studios based on production needs. View "Chicago Studio Rental, Inc. v. Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity" on Justia Law

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Mountain Crest filed suit alleging that Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors had conspired to damage Mountain Crest's beer exports in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Mountain Crest also alleged that defendants were enriched unjustly in violation of Wisconsin law. At issue was an agreement in 2000 between two Canadian entities, BRI and LCBO, and another agreement in 2015 between defendants, BRI, LCBO, and the government of Ontario. The district court ruled that the act of state doctrine required dismissal of the federal claims and granted defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Seventh Circuit held that the first prong of the act of state doctrine analysis was met because the agreements establishing the six-pack rule were acts of state for the purposes of the doctrine. The court also held that to the extent Mountain Crest attacks the six-pack rule under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, the act of state doctrine was applicable. Furthermore, to the extent Mountain Crest seeks relief under Section 2 of the Sherman Act predicated solely on the six-pack rule, the act of state doctrine clearly precludes the action. However, the Second Amended Complaint also sets out allegations that Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors, acting through their officers and employees, violated the same provisions of the Sherman Act by conspiring to bring about the Ontario government's approval of the six-pack rule. The court held that these allegations did not implicate the act of state doctrine. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for the district court to further consider issues it has not addressed. View "Mountain Crest SRL, LLC v. Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV" on Justia Law

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After a creditor in a closed Chapter 7 bankruptcy case tried for a third time to bring a price-fixing claim against BMS, the district court granted BMS's motion to dismiss. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the creditor did not participate in the market for bankruptcy software services in any way that would make it a proper plaintiff to bring an antitrust claim against a firm that provides those services to bankruptcy trustees. Therefore, the creditor's injury was entirely derivative of the estate's injury and merely derivative injuries sustained by creditors of an injured company did not constitute antitrust injury sufficient to confer antitrust standing. View "McGarry & McGarry, LLC v. Bankruptcy Management Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2005 Paramount leased a parcel of highway-adjacent property in Bellwood, Illinois, planning to erect a billboard. Paramount never applied for a local permit. When Bellwood enacted a ban on new billboard permits in 2009, Paramount lost the opportunity to build its sign. Paramount later sought to take advantage of an exception to the ban for village-owned property, offering to lease a different parcel of highway-adjacent property directly from Bellwood. Bellwood accepted an offer from Image, one of Paramount’s competitors. Paramount sued Bellwood and Image, alleging First Amendment, equal-protection, due-process, Sherman Act, and state-law violations. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Paramount lost its lease while the suit was pending, which mooted its claim for injunctive relief from the sign ban. The claim for damages was time-barred, except for an alleged equal-protection violation. That claim failed because Paramount was not similarly situated to Image; Paramount offered Bellwood $1,140,000 in increasing installments over 40 years while Image offered a lump sum of $800,000. Bellwood and Image are immune from Paramount’s antitrust claims. The court did not consider whether a market-participant exception to that immunity exists because Paramount failed to support its antitrust claims. View "Paramount Media Group, Inc. v. Village of Bellwood" on Justia Law

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Schaumburg’s 2016 ordinance requires commercial buildings to send fire‐alarm signals directly to the local 911 dispatch center, NWCDS, which has an exclusive arrangement with Tyco. To send signals to NWCDS, local buildings must use Tyco equipment. Schaumburg’s notice of the ordinance referred to connection through Tyco and stated that accounts would be charged $81 per month to rent Tyco’s radio transmitters and for the monitoring service. Tyco pays NWCDS an administrative fee of $23 per month for each account it connects to the NWCDS equipment. Tyco’s competitors filed suit charging violations of constitutional, antitrust, and state tort law. The district court dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the Contracts Clause claim against Schaumburg. The complaint alleges a potentially significant impairment, the early cancellation of the competitors’ contracts, and Schaumburg’s self‐interest, $300,000 it stands to gain. The court otherwise affirmed, noting that entities not alleged to have taken legislative action cannot be liable under the Contracts Clause. WIth respect to constitutional claims, the court noted the government’s important interest in fire safety. Rejecting antitrust claims, the court stated that the complaint did not allege a prohibited agreement, as opposed to an independent, legislative decision. View "Alarm Detection Systems, Inc. v. Village of Schaumburg" on Justia Law

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Four Illinois Villages passed ordinances that require commercial buildings to send fire-alarm signals directly to the local 911 dispatch center through one alarm-system provider, Tyco, which services the area pursuant to an exclusive agreement with the dispatch center. An alarm-system competitor, ADS, sued, citing the Illinois Fire Protection District Act, the Sherman Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Sherman Act claims fail because they are premised on the unilateral actions of the Villages, which ADS did not sue. The court noted that ADS can compete for the contract now held by Tyco. ADS’s substantive due process claim asserted that the district acted arbitrarily and irrationally by going with an exclusive provider rather than entertaining ADS’s efforts at alternative, methods. The ordinances effectively require the district to work with an exclusive provider and there was thus a rational basis to choose an exclusive provider. View "Alarm Detection Systems, Inc. v. Orland Fire Protection District" on Justia Law

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Direct purchasers of containerboard charged manufacturers with conspiring to increase prices and reduce output from 2004-2010. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the certification of a nationwide class of buyers. Most of the defendants settled. Georgia‐Pacific and WestRock did not settle but persuaded the court that there was not enough evidence of a conspiracy to proceed to trial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal; the Purchasers’ evidence does not tend to exclude the possibility that the companies engaged only in tacit collusion. Without something that can be called an agreement, oligopolies elude scrutiny under section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, while no individual firm has enough market power to be subject to section 2. Tacit collusion is easy in those markets; firms have little incentive to compete, “preferring to share the profits [rather] than to fight with each other.” Because competing inferences can be drawn from the containerboard market structure, the economic evidence did not exclude the possibility of independent action. No evidence supported the Purchasers’ accusation that the defendants lied in claiming to have independently explored a possible price increase. The supposedly coordinated reductions of output through mill closures and slowdowns do not necessarily suggest conspiracy. Conduct that is easily reversed may be consistent with self‐interested decision‐making. There is no evidence that the executives discussed illicit price‐fixing or output restriction deals during their frequent calls and meetings. View "Kleen Products LLC v. Georgia-Pacific LLC" on Justia Law