Missouri resident Elliot Conrad Dale recently filed an antitrust lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”), claiming GSK employed a “device hopping” scheme to ensure uninterrupted patent and regulatory protection for its brand-name asthma inhalers Ventolin and Arnuity Ellipta. The complaint, filed in the Western District of Missouri on behalf of putative nationwide and state antitrust classes, alleges violations of Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits the unlawful maintenance of monopoly power, and 28 state antitrust acts. Alleging that GSK’s practices stifled generic competition, Plaintiff seeks treble damages and injunctive relief.
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Antitrust Update Blog is a source of insights, information and analysis on criminal and civil antitrust and competition-related issues. Patterson Belknap’s antitrust lawyers represent clients in antitrust litigation and counseling matters, including those related to pricing, marketing, distribution, franchising, and joint ventures and other strategic alliances. We have significant experience with government civil and criminal/cartel investigations, providing the unique perspectives of former top U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division lawyers from both the civil and criminal sides.
Last month, the first two trials arising from the DOJ’s recent push to criminally prosecute wage-fixing and employee non-solicitation agreements both ended in acquittals on the antitrust charges. (Check here for our previous coverage of this prosecution trend.) In United States v. Jindal, the defendants were acquitted on charges of price-fixing, while in United States v. DaVita Inc., DaVita and its CEO were acquitted on charges that they engaged in no-poach agreements with competitors. Though the DOJ has publicly declared its intent to continue pursuing such prosecutions, these setbacks may affect how it approaches other alleged labor-market antitrust violations.
Under the Biden Administration, the FTC and DOJ have voiced a commitment to an expansive enforcement of antitrust law. The recent confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to assume Justice Breyer’s position on the Supreme Court raises the question of how antitrust jurisprudence might develop against that backdrop. Those questions loom particularly large given that Justice Breyer’s antitrust opinions have not reflected a predictable theoretical approach to antitrust issues facing the Court; instead, they have tended to manifest the pragmatism that guides his judicial philosophy.
Two weeks ago, the District of Colorado denied defendants’ motion to dismiss in a criminal case targeting agreements between competitors not to solicit (or “poach”) each other’s employees. United States v. DaVita Inc. et al. is part of a wave of four criminal cases regarding no-poach and wage-fixing deals brought by the Department of Justice for the first time ever over the past year. The DOJ contends that the arrangements at issue are per se unlawful under the Sherman Act, even though no appellate court has ever expressly held as such. Defendants in each case, including DaVita, moved to dismiss the charges, asserting that these types of agreements are not per se illegal and that they lacked fair notice that their conduct was a crime.
In addition to the DaVita decision, the motion to dismiss in United States v. Jindal was also recently denied by the Eastern District of Texas. Motions to dismiss in two other cases remain pending, but these first decisions illuminate how courts may treat similar prosecutions going forward.
The Fourth Circuit ruled last month that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, which does business as Atrium Health, is immune from antitrust damages as a “special function governmental unit” under the Local Government Antitrust Act of 1984 (the “Act”). The decision in Benitez v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority clarifies the scope of local government antitrust immunity and confirms that mere growth of an organization beyond local borders does not prevent it from continuing to enjoy antitrust immunity as a “local government.”
On April 13, 2021, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its long-anticipated decision in Impax v. FTC, marking the first time an appellate court has weighed in on the merits of a so-called reverse payment case prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) since the Supreme Court’s Actavis decision in 2013. The case resulted in a validation of the FTC’s approach to policing reverse payment agreements. Specifically, the Court affirmed the Commission’s conclusions that (1) large, unjustified reverse payments are anticompetitive regardless of the strength of the underlying patent litigation, and (2) reverse payment settlements are more anticompetitive than procompetitive if a less-restrictive alternative exists, and that a less-restrictive alternative can be an agreement without a payment that results in an earlier generic entry.
Recent decisions in two different antitrust cases involving price increases and marketing practices for the EpiPen address a relationship solidly embedded in the current architecture of pharmaceutical drug markets: payments between manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers (“PBMs”) hired by health plans to manage prescription drug programs. These new rulings suggest that while certain manufacturer rebates have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, the standard industry practice remains on firm footing.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the FTC is suing pharmaceutical manufacturers Endo and Impax over an alleged “reverse payment” agreement to reduce competition in the market for Opana ER, an oxymorphone extended release product. In fact, the FTC’s complaint follows quickly on the heels of the Commission’s decision that a 2010 agreement between the same manufacturers to settle Impax’s patent litigation against Endo for a $112 million payment constituted an illicit “reverse payment” that delayed the entry of Impax’s generic version of Opana ER. (Click here for background on that decision.) Oral argument on Impax’s appeal of the FTC’s decision happened six months ago; the Fifth Circuit’s decision will mark the first time a Circuit Court weighs in on the FTC’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in FTC v. Actavis. (Click here for analysis of the oral argument)
Litigation concerning reverse-payment settlements remains active. In the coming year, we expect to see material developments regarding treatment of non-monetary settlements of underlying patent litigation, as courts continue to grapple with what constitutes a “large and unjustified” payment. Likewise, we expect further insights regarding the admissibility of expert opinions concerning the likelihood of success of the underlying patent litigation. Read our recent article on this subject here.
Does HHS’s Elimination of the Safe Harbor for Manufacturer Rebates Leave Manufacturers with Increased Antitrust Risk?
On November 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) finalized a rule to take effect in 2022, which eliminates the safe harbor under the federal anti-kickback statute for manufacturer rebates to Medicare Part D plan sponsors. Under the current statutory scheme, drug manufacturers may negotiate rebates with providers of pharmacy benefits—either directly or through a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM)—in exchange for preferential placement or avoiding being disadvantaged on a PBM’s or provider’s drug formulary. The safe harbor permits such payments by confirming that rebates do not constitute illegal kickbacks under the federal statute. HHS’s new rule eliminates that safe harbor, but creates a safe harbor for negotiated discounts on the “list price” of the drug..
On June 9, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in Impax Laboratories, Inc., Etc. v. Federal Trade Commission. The appeal by pharmaceutical manufacturer Impax marks the first time a court will review the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) interpretation of the Supreme Court’s watershed decision on reverse payment settlements, FTC v. Actavis, 570 U.S. 136 (2013).
Yesterday we discussed 2019’s most significant developments in challenges to reverse-payment settlements. Today we continue our analysis of recent trends in pharmaceutical antitrust actions with a discussion of cases addressing class certification requirements in the reverse-payment context.
2019 witnessed a number of developments in challenges to reverse-payment settlements. In its first decision on a pay-for-delay settlement since the Supreme Court’s seminal 2013 decision in FTC v. Actavis, the FTC took an aggressive approach to evaluating a plausible restraint on trade and analyzing proffered procompetitive benefits, reversing the ALJ who heard the case. In the Southern District of New York, an attempt by direct purchasers to plead a conspiracy arising out patent-infringement settlements without an alleged reverse payment failed. And, in the class certification context, district courts grappled with Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement. These notable cases in antitrust actions concerning the pharmaceutical industry are discussed below.
Recently, Judge Goldberg in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania certified two classes of plaintiffs asserting antitrust claims based on alleged “product hopping” by the manufacturer of branded tablets treating opioid addiction. In re: Suboxone (Buprenorphine Hydrochloride and Nalaxone) Antitrust Litig., 13-md-2445, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166524 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 26, 2019). While declining to certify a class of end payors seeking injunctive relief, the court nevertheless certified (1) a damages class of direct purchasers of Suboxone tablets under Rule 23(b)(3) and (2) an issues class of end payors certified under Rule 23(c)(4). The court held that certification of the latter class would materially advance the litigation because the issue of alleged anticompetitive conduct—which focuses only on the conduct of defendants—is “wholly severable” from the issues of antitrust impact and damages, which could raise individualized issues.
Though the merger of CVS and Aetna received conditional approval from the DOJ’s Antitrust Division back in October, the road to final approval has been rocky as the court’s exasperation with the parties appears to grow. Last week, Judge Richard J. Leon of the District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the Antitrust Division to respond to public comment on the merger by February 15, 2019—notwithstanding the fact that appropriations to the Antitrust Division lapsed on January 4, leaving the Division without funding.
After two hearings over the last week, Judge Richard J. Leon of the District Court for the District of Columbia seems to have put the brakes on the well-publicized merger between health care giants CVS and Aetna. The merger obtained conditional approval from the DOJ’s Antitrust Division on October 10, 2018, and the parties seemed poised for court approval when they appeared before Judge Leon on November 29, 2018.
The Third Circuit recently affirmed the grant of summary judgment to GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”) in the nearly 10-year-old Wellbutrin XL Antitrust Litigation, which challenged the lawfulness of settlement agreements resolving patent disputes over Wellbutrin XL. In determining that GSK had not violated the Sherman Act, the court determined that GSK’s settlement of patent infringement lawsuits did not reflect that GSK had engaged in sham litigation, or that GSK made unlawful “reverse payments” to settle that litigation. To reach these conclusions, the court carefully picked apart years of evidence
“But what is more common than exclusive dealing?” Affirming summary judgment for defendant Saint Francis Medical Center, the Seventh Circuit recently held that the hospital’s contracts with health care insurers—though admittedly exclusive—did not harm competition. In fact, such contracts were likely the product of a competitive market in which Saint Francis was simply the best competitor.
This week, the Second Circuit affirmed the approval of a $50 million agreement settling price-fixing claims brought by a class of farmers against a dairy cooperative and a dairy marketing company. The settlement in Allen et al. v. Dairy Farmers of America et al. was notable for at least two reasons that were seemingly at odds: First, the unusually high number of claims filed; and second, the vociferous advocacy of two named plaintiffs who objected to the settlement. The objectors argued that class counsel colluded with defendants’ to reach a settlement agreement, and coerced class members to support the settlement.
What does to take to state a claim under Section 2 of the Sherman Act for refusal to deal? Last week’s decision in Viamedia, Inc. v. Comcast Corp. and Comcast Spotlight, LP, a case out of the Northern District of Illinois, highlights the difficulty of plausibly alleging a negative: that a defendant monopolist’s exclusionary conduct lacks any procompetitive purpose.
Manufacturers of containerboard and corrugated products have asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on a Circuit split concerning the impact of negotiated prices on class certification in antitrust cases brought under Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Petitioners filed for a writ of certiorari on December 30, 2016, arguing that the Seventh Circuit in Kleen Products LLC, et al. v. International Paper Company, et al., Nos. 15-2385, 15-2386 (7th Cir. Aug. 4 2016), erred in two related ways, both of which flow from the fact that prices of the containerboard products at issue in the case tend to be individually negotiated.
How explicitly must a complaint sounding in antitrust allege causation? At oral argument last week, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit evaluated the sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ allegations that certain Takeda entities, in their representations to the FDA, falsely described patents for the antidiabetic drug ACTOS in order to delay the entry of generic competitors into the market—specifically, whether the plaintiffs had pleaded enough facts to show that these representations plausibly caused the delay.
Procompetitive Effects of Business Associations in the Balance?: Business Association Membership and the Sufficiency of Sherman Act Allegations
What facts beyond mere membership in a trade association trigger Sherman Act liability? Next term, the Supreme Court will hear an antitrust case testing the requirements for pleading the conspiracy element of a claim brought under the Sherman Act—namely, whether the allegation that defendants belong to an association is sufficient for a Section 1 claim.
Certifying a class of direct purchasers of sheet metal parts alleging claims under section 1 of the Sherman Act, Judge Lynn Adelman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin focused on what it means for common questions to predominate in an antitrust class action.
It is plausible that Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, may have violated antitrust law by fixing prices charged to Uber passengers, a judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York concluded last week in denying Kalanick’s motion to dismiss. The lawsuit, Meyer v. Kalanick, is a putative class action initiated by Spencer Meyer, a resident of Connecticut, on behalf of people who, like him, have used Uber car services. The complaint also names a subclass of people who have been charged according to Uber’s “surge pricing” model.
Yesterday, Staples closed its defense in the case brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block the Staples-Office Depot merger—without calling any witnesses. Judge Emmet Sullivan of the D.C. District Court stated that he “did not anticipate” this unusual move by Staples. The CEOs of both Staples and Office Depot were slated to testify; instead, Judge Sullivan began hearing closing arguments.
Fifth Circuit Considers Independent Conduct in Vertical Agreements to Facilitate Horizontal Conspiracy
On November 25, 2015, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the $156 million antitrust judgment in MM Steel, L.P. v. JSW Steel (USA) Incorporated; Nucor Corporation, upholding a jury verdict that found one defendant steel manufacturer (JSW Steel) liable for participation in an illegal conspiracy to block distributor MM Steel from entering the market. The Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict as to defendant Nucor, another steel manufacturer. In so doing, the Fifth Circuit identified evidence that does—and does not—tend to exclude the possibility of independent conduct for purposes of finding a violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act. The court also underscored that per se liability (and not the rule of reason) attaches to horizontal conspirators’ use of vertical agreements to shut competitors out of the market.