Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Andren v. Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation End User Consumer Plaintiff Class
Three sets of plaintiffs alleged price fixing in the broiler chicken market, including a class of end users–persons and entities who indirectly purchased certain types of broilers from the defendants or alleged co-conspirators for personal consumption in certain jurisdictions during the class period. This class settled their claims with a subset of the defendants for $181 million. The district court entered judgment (FRCP 54(b)) as to the settling parties. Class counsel was awarded one-third of the settlement—excluding expenses and incentive awards— $57.4 million. Class member Andren argued the court erred in discounting bids made by class counsel in auctions in other cases; in suggesting the Seventh Circuit has rejected the use of declining fee scale award structures; and in crediting expert reports. In setting the fee award, the district court considered actual agreements between the parties and fee agreements reached in the market for legal services, the risk of nonpayment at the outset of the case and class counsel’s performance, and fee awards in comparable cases.The Seventh Circuit vacated the award. Under Seventh Circuit law, the district court’s task was to award fees in accord with a hypothetical “ex-ante bargain.” In doing so, the court did not consider bids made by class counsel in auctions in other cases as well as out-of-circuit fee awards. View "Andren v. Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation End User Consumer Plaintiff Class" on Justia Law
Turner v. McDonald’s USA LLC
Until recently, under every McDonald’s franchise agreement, the franchise operator promised not to hire any person employed by a different franchise, or by McDonald’s itself, until six months after the last date that person had worked for McDonald’s or another franchise. A related clause barred one franchisee from soliciting another’s employee (anti-poach clauses). In a suit under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, the plaintiffs worked for McDonald’s franchises while these clauses were in force and were unable to take higher-paying offers at other franchises. They contend that the anti-poach clause violated the antitrust laws.The district court dismissed, rejecting plaintiffs’ “per se” theory, stating that the anti-poach clause is not a “naked” restraint on trade but is ancillary to each franchise agreement—and, as every new restaurant expands output, the restraint was justified. The court deemed the complaint deficient under the Rule of Reason because it does not allege that McDonald’s and its franchises collectively have power in the market for restaurant workers’ labor.The Seventh Circuit. The complaint alleges a horizontal restraint; market power is not essential to antitrust claims involving naked agreements among competitors. The court noted that there are many potentially complex questions, which cannot be answered by looking at the language of the complaint but require careful economic analysis. View "Turner v. McDonald's USA LLC" on Justia Law
Amory Investments LLC v. Utrecht-America Holdings, Inc.
Consolidated suits claimed that many firms in the broiler-chicken business formed a cartel. Third-party discovery in that ongoing suit turned up evidence that Rabobank, a lender to several broiler-chicken producers, urged at least two of them to cut production. Some plaintiffs added Rabobank as an additional defendant.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims. The Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, bans combinations and conspiracies in restraint of trade and does not reach unilateral action. Here, all the plaintiffs allege is that Rabobank tried to protect its interests through unilateral action. The complaint does not allege that Rabobank served as a conduit for the producers’ agreement, helped them coordinate their production and catch cheaters, or even knew that the producers were coordinating among themselves. A flurry of emails among managers and other employees at Rabobank observing that lower output and higher prices in the broiler-chicken market would improve the bank’s chance of collecting its loans and a pair of emails from the head of Rabobank’s poultry-lending section, to executives at two producers indicated nothing but unilateral action. The intra-Rabobank emails could not have promoted or facilitated cooperation among producers and the two messages only reminded the producers that as long as demand curves slope downward, lower output implies higher prices. Advice differs from agreement. View "Amory Investments LLC v. Utrecht-America Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Uetricht v. Chicago Parking Meters, LLC
During the 2008 recession, Chicago faced a $150 million shortfall in revenue and sought an alternative to raising taxes. The city awarded a 75-year Concession over designated parking spaces to the private firm CPM, which agreed to give Chicago an upfront payment of more than a billion dollars. After CPM took over, the price of parking in areas covered by the Concession more than doubled. Litigation in both state and federal courts followed. A federal class action filed by “two car drivers who live in Chicago,” asserted that CPM has violated the federal antitrust laws, 15 U.S.C. 1, 2.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the antitrust theories as barred by the state-action immunity doctrine. The Concession represents a use of municipal authority to substitute, during the term of the lease, exclusive private operation for direct city operation of specified areas of Chicago’s on-street parking facilities. It swaps one “monopolist” (Chicago) for another (CPM). Chicago had the authority to enter into the Concession and has reserved meaningful powers to oversee and regulate CPM’s performance. The court also theorized that there might not be a monopoly; Chicago cars can be found in apartment building parking garages, private residential garages, private lots, public lots, unregulated streets, and metered parking. View "Uetricht v. Chicago Parking Meters, LLC" on Justia Law
Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. AbbVie Inc.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this complaint alleging that certain patents related to the medicine Humira and the settlement of litigation about them violated sections one and two of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 1 & 2, holding that dismissal was proper.At the end of 2016, the basic U.S. patient for Humira, a monoclonal antibody, expired. AbbVie, Humira's owner, obtained 132 additional patents related to the medicine for issues such as manufacturing or administering the drug, the last of which expires in 2034. Plaintiffs, welfare-benefit plans that paid for Humira on behalf of covered beneficiaries, brought this complaint alleging that AbbVie violated the Sherman Act by obtaining the 132 patents. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim under the Sherman Act. View "Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. AbbVie Inc." on Justia Law
REXA, Inc. v. Chester
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to Defendants on all claims asserted against them, including misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of an implied contractual obligation to assign patent rights but vacated the judgment awarding attorneys' fees, holding that a reduction in fees was warranted.REXA, Inc. sued Mark Chester and MEA, Inc. for misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of an implied contractual obligation to assign patent rights, alleging that Chester and MEA incorporated and disclosed confidential designs. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding that the district court (1) properly granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants; but (2) abused its discretion in awarding Chester and MEA approximately $2.357 million in attorneys' fees, which they requested as a sanction for REXA's litigation conduct, where the court did not make specific findings about each of REXA's objections to the fee petition. View "REXA, Inc. v. Chester" on Justia Law
Marion HealthCare, LLC. v. Southern Illinois Healthcare Services
A southern Illinois outpatient surgery clinic accused the area’s largest hospital system and its largest health insurer (Blue Cross) of violating federal and state antitrust laws by entering into contracts that designate the hospital but not the clinic as a Blue Cross preferred provider (in-network provider). A district judge granted judgment in favor of Blue Cross, reasoning that insurers are customers and cannot be liable for the practices of sellers with market power. The clinic and the hospital agreed that a magistrate judge could handle the rest of the case and enter a final judgment, 28 U.S.C. 636(c). Discovery followed. After reviewing a special master’s report, a magistrate granted the hospital summary judgment on the ground that the clinic had not been injured.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first noting that Blue Cross had not consented to a magistrate having final authority. However, Blue Cross received a district judge's decision and impliedly consented to the magistrate by submitting documentation. Neither federal nor state law prohibits preferred provider agreements; the agreements are not exclusive dealing or tie-in arrangements. The clinic "scarcely tries to show that it has been injured by reduced output or higher prices," nor does it allege that there is any historical link between the hospital’s insurance-contracting practices and either prices or output. View "Marion HealthCare, LLC. v. Southern Illinois Healthcare Services" on Justia Law
Vasquez v. Indiana University Health, Inc
Bloomington, Indiana (population 90,000) is in a metropolitan statistical area with a population near 200,000. From Bloomington, one can drive an hour and ten minutes to Indianapolis (population 865,000); two hours to Evansville (population 120,000); two hours to Louisville (population 620,000); or two and a half hours to Cincinnati, (population 300,000). Dr. Vasquez arrived in Bloomington in 2006, opened an independent vascular‐surgery practice, and obtained admitting privileges at Bloomington Hospital, Monroe Hospital, and the Indiana Specialty Surgery Center. He performed more than 95% of his inpatient procedures at Bloomington Hospital. In 2010, IU Health acquired Bloomington Hospital. In 2017, IU Health acquired Premier Healthcare, an independent physician group based in Bloomington. Vasquez alleges that, because of the acquisition, IU Health employs 97% of primary care providers (PCPs) in Bloomington and over 80% of PCPs in the region. Vasquez’s alleged that IU Health launched “a systematic and targeted scheme” to ruin his reputation and practice because of Vasquez’s commitment to independent practice. IU Health's employees cast aspersions on his reputation. IU Health revoked Vasquez’s Bloomington admitting privileges.Vasquez brought claims under Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, and Clayton Act, section 18. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of his suit. Vasquez’s accounts of how a hypothetical monopolist could dominate Bloomington’s vascular‐ surgery market suffice for the pleading stage; the complaint presents a plausible account under which his suit is timely. View "Vasquez v. Indiana University Health, Inc" on Justia Law
Siva v. American Board of Radiology
The Board, a private, nonprofit provider of medical certifications to radiologists, is dominant in the market for radiology certifications. All states permit physicians who are not Board-certified to practice medicine, provided they possess a valid state medical license. Siva, a Board-certified radiologist, says that most insurers will not grant in-network status to physicians who are not Board-certified; uncertified physicians are often shut out from meaningful employment opportunities. When the Board began selling certifications in 1934, radiologists who passed the examination would remain certified for life. The Board later shifted to “initial certification” and “maintenance of certification” (MOC). Radiologists who wish to remain Board-certified must participate in and pay for the MOC program annually, which requires continuing education credits from third parties, completing “practice improvement” activities, and passing Board-administered examinations.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Siva’s antitrust suit. Siva argued that MOC should be thought of not as part of the Board’s certification product but as a unique product in its own right and that the Board’s decision to revoke the certification of radiologists who refuse to participate in the MOC program reflects not a benign product redesign but rather an illegal tying arrangement that violates the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. Siva cannot identify a distinct product market in which it is efficient to offer MOC separately from certification. View "Siva v. American Board of Radiology" on Justia Law
Marion Diagnostic Center, LLC v. Becton Dickinson & Co.
A putative class of medical providers sued, alleging a conspiracy to drive up the prices of syringes and safety IV catheters (Products). Their first complaint, alleging a hub‐and‐spokes conspiracy ( Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1) between manufacturer, BD, group purchasing organizations, and four distributors, was dismissed because the Providers failed to allege that the distributors coordinated with each other in furtherance of the conspiracy. In an amended complaint, the Providers abandoned their horizontal conspiracy allegations and alleged two vertical conspiracies, one between BD and McKesson and another between BD and Cardinal Health.The district court dismissed, noting that because the named plaintiffs do not purchase the Products directly from Cardinal, they lack “antitrust standing” to sue Cardinal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. . The Providers cannot sue Cardinal under Article III because their injury is not fairly traceable to Cardinal’s conduct; precedent precludes the suit because they do not purchase the Products from either member of the BD‐Cardinal conspiracy. The Providers did not plausibly establish that vertical conspiracies involving just two distributors and BD could influence the prices that the Providers pay, regardless of which distributor they purchase from, and regardless of the fact that there are at least four major distributors. View "Marion Diagnostic Center, LLC v. Becton Dickinson & Co." on Justia Law