Motorola Oral Arguments Today – Will the Seventh Circuit Revise Its Interpretation of the FTAIA, and If so, How?
Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral argument from the parties and amicus curiae the United States concerning the reach of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (“FTAIA”), 15 U.S.C. § 6a, in Motorola Mobility LLC v. AU Optronics. Last March, as we’ve written previously, the court ruled against Motorola in an interlocutory appeal concerning the FTAIA’s application to offshore components manufacturers. The court subsequently withdrew its opinion, denied a petition for en banc review, and ordered oral argument.
This is the first in what we expect to be a series of updates on DOJ criminal actions in the cartel area. Here, we look at highlights over the last six months in the DOJ’s investigations of the auto parts industry, LIBOR, and municipal real estate auctions.
FTC Commissioner Julie Brill discussed the agency’s competition and consumer protection priorities in her keynote address last Thursday at the ABA’s Antitrust Fall Forum at the National Press Club in Washington. Brill led off with an ode to the antitrust ideals of the Progressive Era – with plenty of references to Justice Brandeis – and focused primarily on health care efforts, emphasizing that the FTC and the Affordable Care Act have the same goals of “promoting high quality and cost-effective health care.”
Developments in the Capacitor Cartel Litigation: Class Counsel Appointed and the Antitrust Division Intervenes
In July, we wrote about two putative class action lawsuits alleging that Panasonic, Samsung, and other electronics manufacturers had formed a cartel to boost prices of certain electronic capacitors. Since then, the cases have been consolidated, interim lead co-counsel have been appointed, the Antitrust Division has confirmed its own investigation, and the court has set a preliminary case schedule.
Our regular readers know that we have been carefully following the developments in Motorola Mobility LLC v. AU Optronics Corp., currently pending in the Seventh Circuit. The case addresses the reach of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (“FTAIA”), and will join recent decisions issued by the Second Circuit and Ninth Circuit earlier this year.
We have written extensively about the scope of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvement Acts and the extraterritorial reach of U.S. antitrust laws. Now, the scope of the U.S. antitrust laws has arisen in a different context: the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”).
The Swiss competition law is governed by the Federal Law of October 6, 1995, on Cartels and Other Restraints of Competition (the Cartel Act). The regulatory framework is accompanied by numerous federal ordinances and communications of the Federal Competition Commission. On February 22, 2012, the Swiss Federal Council submitted to Parliament its draft for a number of amendments of the Cartel Act for approval. On September 17, 2014, the Parliament rejected in its entirety the proposed revision of the Cartel Act.
Over the last month there have been a number of speeches from high-ranking executives at the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice regarding antitrust compliance programs. After reviewing these remarks, in-house counsel may ask whether it is necessary and/or cost-effective to implement and enforce a robust antitrust compliance program at their company if the return on investment is low. While having an antitrust compliance program in place may not prevent a company from being charged with an antitrust violation in the first place, a compliance program does increase the likelihood of early detection of such violations, which in turn provides a substantial benefit if the company would like to apply for leniency under the Division’s leniency program and the company needs to be the first in the door.
We’ve previously written about Motorola Mobility v. AU Optronics, currently pending in the Seventh Circuit. As many of you know, the Seventh Circuit vacated its March 2014 decision that the higher prices for mobile phones Motorola sold in the United States did not “give rise” to antitrust claims and that Motorola could not show a “direct” effect on U.S. commerce sufficient to satisfy the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (“FTAIA”). Briefing is currently underway, and the case is scheduled for oral argument on Thursday, November 13.
The Federal Trade Commission has reached a proposed consent agreement with two major propane distributors, Ferrellgas, L.P. (d/b/a Blue Rhino) and AmeriGas Partners, L.P., that would settle an FTC price-fixing investigation into the two companies. The proposed deal was announced by the FTC in an order withdrawing the matter from adjudication so that the proposed agreement could be reviewed.
Many of you will recall that on March 27, 2014, the Seventh Circuit issued a long-awaited decision concerning the scope of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (“FTAIA”) in Motorola Mobility v. AU Optronics. The Seventh Circuit held that the higher prices for mobile phones Motorola sold in the United States did not “give rise to” its foreign subsidiaries’ antitrust claims, and that Motorola could not show a “direct” effect on U.S. commerce sufficient to satisfy the FTAIA. Just days after this opinion, Motorola asked for a rehearing. After multiple letters back and forth between the Court, the parties, and the Solicitor General’s Office, on July 1, 2014 the Seventh Circuit vacated its prior opinion. Additional briefing is now underway, and is expected to be completed in October.
On Friday, August 8, Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California issued her much-anticipated findings of fact and conclusions of law in O’Bannon v. NCAA.
Over the past ten years, criminal antitrust fines have increased dramatically: they totaled only $107 million in fiscal year (“FY”) 2003, but increased to a high of $1.14 billion in FY-2012 and remained relatively steady at $1.02 billion in FY-2013. As criminal fines increase, companies face increasing exposure for conduct that allegedly runs afoul of the U.S. antitrust laws. What is driving the marked increase in potential penalties?
Last month, we were excited to publish our article, The Use of Expert Witnesses for Penalty Determinations in Criminal Antitrust Cases: A Study of United States v. AU Optronics, in Antitrust Magazine. The article examines the use of expert testimony during the trial in AU Optronics, No. 09-cr-110 (N.D. Cal), and discusses several strategic issues for practitioners to consider in responding to expert testimony in criminal cartel cases.
As luck would have it, just days after our article was published, the Ninth Circuit issued its long-awaited AU Optronics decision addressing the requirements of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (“FTAIA”).
A pair of putative class actions has been filed in the past two weeks charging Panasonic, Samsung, and other electronics manufacturers with forming a cartel to boost prices in the sagging market for certain electronics capacitors. The actions follow press reports that officials in the United States and China are investigating the alleged cartel and that at least one manufacturer, who has not yet been identified, has applied for leniency with the Department of Justice.
Last Thursday, Judge Kevin McNulty in the District of New Jersey issued a 69-page opinion explaining his sua sponte dismissal of the putative class action complaint in Animal Science Products, Inc. v. China Minmetals Corp., which alleges a horizontal price-fixing scheme by a cartel of Chinese magnesite exporters.
The news is filled with stories about government investigations into possible violations of the antitrust laws: alleged anti-competitive conduct by Google, price fixing by Apple and bid rigging by large financial institutions. In-house counsel should be prepared to respond quickly if your company is served with either a subpoena – signifying a criminal investigation – or civil investigative demand (“CID”).
We are pleased to announce the launch of Antitrust Update, Patterson Belknap’s new resource for the latest news and happenings in the antitrust and competition law arena.
On June 27, the trial in O’Bannon v. NCAA concluded following 15 days of testimony. Plaintiffs in this case, former college athletes, including former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, originally filed in the Northern District of California in 2009. They have challenged the NCAA’s longstanding ban on paying licensing fees to college athletes for the use of their names and images in commercial outlets like broadcasts, merchandise, and video games, asserting that this policy constitutes an anti-competitive restraint of trade devoid of any pro-competitive benefits.
On June 4, 2014, the Second Circuit issued its decision in Lotes Co., Ltd. v. Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., an important ruling on the reach of the U.S. antitrust laws to foreign conduct.
Further to our previous post, The Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations, by contrast, which the Criminal Division and the various United States Attorney’s offices employ to assess corporate liability and determine an appropriate resolution, speak more generally about corporate cooperation with respect to securing the cooperation of corporate executives.
On May 19, 2014, I participated on a panel entitled “Cross-Border Investigations Involving Multiple Agencies” at the New York City Bar Association’s Third Annual White Collar Crime Institute. The moderator of the panel was Bruce Yannett from Debevoise & Plimpton and my co-panelists were Denis J. McInerney, the former chief of the Fraud Section at DOJ; David Meister, the former Director of Enforcement at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and Aaron R. Marcu of Freshfields.
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