Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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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

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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

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The Association of American Physicians & Surgeons (AAPS), is a nonprofit organization of physicians and surgeons. The American Board of Medical Specialties, a nonprofit provider of medical certification services, is an umbrella organization for 24 member boards, each dedicated to a particular medical practice area. The Board deems physicians who meet its requirements to be “Board-certified.” To remain certified, physicians must comply with the Board’s Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program and continuing education requirements. All states permit physicians who are not Board-certified to practice medicine.According to AAPS, the Board conspired with its member boards, hospitals, and health insurers to condition the granting of staff privileges and in-network status on physicians’ continued participation in the MOC program so that physicians find themselves forced to participate in the program to practice medicine, at least if they wish to do so in hospitals or to accept certain forms of insurance. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of its suit under section 1 of the Sherman Act and claiming negligent misrepresentation on the Board’s website to “create the false impression that [the MOC program] is indicative of the medical skills of physicians.” The complaint does not plausibly allege an agreement between the Board, hospitals, and insurers. Mere legal conclusions are “not entitled to be assumed true.” View "Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Inc. v. American Board of Medical Specialties" on Justia Law

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Companies that tow or recycle used cars alleged that Milwaukee and its subcontractor, engaged in anticompetitive behavior to self-allocate towing services and abandoned vehicles, a primary input in the scrap metal recycling business. They alleged that an exclusive contract the city entered into with one of the area’s largest recycling providers, Miller Compressing, violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and that the contract provided direct evidence of an agreement to restrain trade. They cited laws that require a city-issued license to tow vehicles from certain areas, that obligate towing companies to provide various notices, and that cap maximum charges imposed on vehicle owners who have illegally parked or abandoned their vehicles, as having been enacted to squeeze them out of the market.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The arrangement between the city and Miller is not per se unreasonable on the basis of horizontal price-fixing. The court also rejected a claim of “bid-rigging.” View "Always Towing & Recovery Inc. v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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U.S. organized amateur hockey leagues come under the purview of USA Hockey, Inc., which is subject to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. 220501–43. USA Hockey delegates most of its authority to state and regional affiliates. Since 1975, the Association has governed the sport in Illinois. Black Bear, which owns Illinois skating rinks, filed suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, alleging that the Association is monopolizing the sport. Black Bear does not claim to have paid monopoly prices, nor does it seek an order dissolving the Association and allowing free competition. It asked the district judge to order the Association to admit it as a member and permit it to sponsor a club and to pay damages for business losses suffered until these things occur. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The Sherman Act cannot be used to regulate cartels’ membership and profit-sharing. Members and potential members can enforce (or contest) its rules as a matter of state law, though a private group receives considerable leeway in the interpretation and application of those rules. View "Black Bear Sports Group, Inc. v. Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, Inc." on Justia Law

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USFE planned to offer an electronic-based futures trading platform that posed a competitive threat to exchanges using the more traditional floor-trading model, like CBOT. USFE targeted February 1, 2004, as its launch date to establish itself before several futures and options contracts expired, so that traders could transfer their business to USFE. In July 2003, USFE sought approval as a designated contract market by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Commission solicited public comment. CBOT, another futures exchange (CME), and others raised objections. CBOT and CME successfully requested a postponement.USFE approached BOTCC to negotiate an agreement for clearing services that would have provided USFE with access to startup liquidity in the form of open interest created by market participants and held at BOTCC. CBOT also used BOTCC and proposed Rule 701.01. The Commission approved the rule, which compelled the transfer of CBOT’s open interest from BOTCC to its new, exclusive clearing partner. By draining its open contracts from BOTCC, CBOT deprived USFE of access to significant liquidity. The Commission approved USFE on February 4, 2004. USFE launched on February 8. The undertaking flopped. USFE sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The Noerr-Pennington doctrine shields the defendants’ petitioning from antitrust scrutiny and neither exception (fraud or sham lawsuit) applies. The Commission’s explicit approval of Rule 701.01 impliedly repeals the antitrust laws, immunizing defendants against USFE’s open interest claims. View "U.S. Futures Exchange, L.L.C. v. Board of Trade of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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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