Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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Apple sells iPhone applications (apps) directly to iPhone owners through its App Store—the only place where iPhone owners may lawfully buy apps. Most apps are created by independent developers under contracts with Apple. Apple charges the developers a $99 annual membership fee, allows them to set the retail price of the apps, and charges a 30% commission on every app sale. Four iPhone owners sued, alleging that Apple has unlawfully monopolized the aftermarket for iPhone apps. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit concluding that the owners were direct purchasers under the Supreme Court’s “Illinois Brick” precedent. The Supreme Court affirmed. The Clayton Act provides that “any person who shall be injured in his business or property by reason of anything forbidden in the antitrust laws may sue,” 15 U.S.C. 15(a), and readily covers consumers who purchase goods or services at higher-than-competitive prices from an allegedly monopolistic retailer. While indirect purchasers who are two or more steps removed from the violator in a distribution chain may not sue, the iPhone owners are not consumers at the bottom of a vertical distribution chain who are attempting to sue manufacturers at the top of the chain. The absence of an intermediary in the distribution chain between Apple and the consumer is dispositive. The Court rejected an argument that Illinois Brick allows consumers to sue only the party who sets the retail price. Apple’s interpretation would contradict the long-standing goal of effective private enforcement and consumer protection in antitrust cases. Illinois Brick is not a get-out-of-court-free card for monopolistic retailers any time that a damages calculation might be complicated. View "Apple, Inc. v. Pepper" on Justia Law

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The Amex credit card companies use a two-sided transaction platform to serve cardholders and merchants. Unlike traditional markets, two-sided platforms exhibit “indirect network effects,” because the value of the platform to one group depends on how many members of another group participate. Two-sided platforms must take these effects into account before making a change in price on either side, or they risk creating a feedback loop of declining demand. Visa and MasterCard have structural advantages over Amex. Amex focuses on cardholder spending rather than cardholder lending. To encourage cardholder spending, Amex provides better rewards than the other credit-card companies. Amex continually invests in its cardholder rewards program and must charge merchants higher fees than its rivals. To avoid higher fees, merchants sometimes attempt to dissuade cardholders from using Amex cards (steering). Amex places anti-steering provisions in its contracts with merchants. The Supreme Court affirmed the Second Circuit in rejecting claims that Amex violated section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits "unreasonable restraints” of trade. Applying the "rule of reason" three-step burden-shifting framework, the Court concluded the plaintiffs did not establish that Amex’s anti-steering provisions have a substantial anticompetitive effect that harms consumers in the relevant market. Evidence of a price increase on one side of a two-sided transaction platform cannot, by itself, demonstrate an anticompetitive exercise of market power; plaintiffs must prove that Amex’s anti-steering provisions increased the cost of credit-card transactions above a competitive level, reduced the number of credit-card transactions, or otherwise stifled competition. They offered no evidence that the price of credit-card transactions was higher than the price one would expect in a competitive market. Amex’s increased merchant fees reflect increases in the value of its services and the cost of its transactions, not an ability to charge above a competitive price. The Court noted that Visa and MasterCard’s merchant fees have continued to increase, even where Amex is not accepted. The market actually experienced expanding output and improved quality. View "Ohio v. American Express Co." on Justia Law

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Purchasers of vitamin C filed suit, alleging that Chinese exporters had agreed to fix the price and quantity of vitamin C exported to the U.S., in violation of the Sherman Act. The exporters unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the complaint and later sought summary judgment, arguing that Chinese law required them to fix the price and quantity of exports, shielding them from liability under U.S. antitrust law. China’s Ministry of Commerce, the authority authorized to regulate foreign trade, asserted that the alleged conspiracy was actually a pricing regime mandated by the Chinese Government. The purchasers countered that the Ministry had identified no law or regulation requiring the agreement; highlighted a publication announcing that the sellers had agreed to control the quantity and rate of exports without government intervention; and noted China’s statement to the World Trade Organization that it ended its export administration of vitamin C in 2002. The Second Circuit reversed a verdict for the purchasers, stating that federal courts are “bound to defer” to the foreign government’s construction of its own law, whenever that construction is “reasonable.” The Supreme Court vacated. A federal court determining foreign law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but is not bound to accord conclusive effect to such statements. Relevant considerations include the clarity, thoroughness, and support of the foreign government's statement; its context and purpose; the transparency of the foreign legal system; the role and authority of the entity or official offering the statement; and the statement’s consistency with the foreign government’s past positions. Determination of foreign law must be treated as a question of law; courts are not limited to materials submitted by the parties, but “may consider any relevant material or source.” View "Animal Science Products, Inc. v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co." on Justia Law

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Purchasers of vitamin C filed suit, alleging that Chinese exporters had agreed to fix the price and quantity of vitamin C exported to the U.S., in violation of the Sherman Act. The exporters unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the complaint and later sought summary judgment, arguing that Chinese law required them to fix the price and quantity of exports, shielding them from liability under U.S. antitrust law. China’s Ministry of Commerce, the authority authorized to regulate foreign trade, asserted that the alleged conspiracy was actually a pricing regime mandated by the Chinese Government. The purchasers countered that the Ministry had identified no law or regulation requiring the agreement; highlighted a publication announcing that the sellers had agreed to control the quantity and rate of exports without government intervention; and noted China’s statement to the World Trade Organization that it ended its export administration of vitamin C in 2002. The Second Circuit reversed a verdict for the purchasers, stating that federal courts are “bound to defer” to the foreign government’s construction of its own law, whenever that construction is “reasonable.” The Supreme Court vacated. A federal court determining foreign law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but is not bound to accord conclusive effect to such statements. Relevant considerations include the clarity, thoroughness, and support of the foreign government's statement; its context and purpose; the transparency of the foreign legal system; the role and authority of the entity or official offering the statement; and the statement’s consistency with the foreign government’s past positions. Determination of foreign law must be treated as a question of law; courts are not limited to materials submitted by the parties, but “may consider any relevant material or source.” View "Animal Science Products, Inc. v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co." on Justia Law