Category: Class Actions
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.”
Antitrust litigation has been ongoing for several years in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama against one of the biggest business associations in America, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (“BCBSA”) and its members. We previously wrote about this litigation here and here. BCBSA is comprised of independent health insurers that license the “Blue Cross” and “Blue Shield” trademarks from BCBSA. As a condition of their licenses, BCBSA members grant each member exclusive geographic territories where each is allowed to use the Blue trademarks; some BCBSA members also happen to enjoy very high market shares in a number of their respective jurisdictions. There are also licensing rules that limit how much revenue each member can derive from lines of business that do not use the Blue trademarks. One of these rules was the “National Best Efforts Rule.” This rule required that two-thirds of each member’s national revenue be derived from Blue-branded plans. In other words, while each member could theoretically compete in others’ territories using brands that did not include the “Blue Cross” and “Blue Shield” trademarks, there was a cap on how much business a member could generate this way. These restrictions allegedly reduced competition between BCBSA members
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.
In re Asacol: First Circuit Sharply Limits Certification of Antitrust Classes Containing Uninjured Members
In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that Rule 23’s “predominance” requirement barred certification of a class of all indirect purchasers of a prescription drug because the class included members who were uninjured by the alleged anti-competitive activity – they were “brand loyal” and would not have purchased a cheaper generic product even were it available. Asacol makes it more difficult to certify antitrust class actions in the First Circuit and its effects may extend further if the First Circuit’s reasoning is adopted by other circuits.
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear Apple Inc. v. Pepper, a major case involving antitrust standing, interested parties across the political spectrum are weighing in with their ideas of how the case should be resolved. As we previously reported, the Supreme Court decided to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision that because Apple sold iPhone apps directly to consumers, consumers are direct purchasers that have standing to sue Apple for alleged monopolization of the market for iPhone apps. Apple contends that the app developers – not Apple – are the sellers of apps to consumers because the app developers set prices; Apple contends that it sells only distribution services, and sells those services to the app developers, not to consumers.
The Third Circuit recently denied a petition for rehearing en banc a panel’s earlier decision in the In re Flonase Antitrust Litigation. In that case, the panel decision addressed the degree to which class settlements can bind non-participating U.S. state class members. After vigorous briefing on the issue, the panel found that the state of Louisiana had not waived its sovereign immunity, and therefore could not be bound by a class settlement that enjoined class members from subsequently bringing separate suits. This is a case with potentially wide reaching implications, as it could impact the negotiation of settlements in class actions that include states as class members.
On January 10, 2018, in In re Lantus Direct Purchaser Antitrust Litig., the District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed the antitrust case against Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC (“Sanofi”), the manufacturer of Lantus and Lantus SoloSTAR, which use the insulin product glargine to treat Type I and Type II diabetes. The plaintiffs in the multi-district litigation, a group of purchasers of the Lantus products, alleged that Sanofi unlawfully prolonged its monopoly for the glargine products after the expiration of the relevant patent in two ways. First, the plaintiffs alleged that Sanofi improperly listed six patents in the FDA’s Approved Drug Products with Therapeutic Equivalence Evaluations (the “Orange Book”). Second, the plaintiffs alleged that Sanofi pursued sham litigation against Eli Lilly in which Sanofi asserted claims of patent infringement without any reasonable basis. That litigation was settled by Sanofi and Lilly shortly before trial.
A federal judge in California has refused to allow indirect purchasers of semiconductor chips—i.e., cell phone consumers—to bring claims against Qualcomm under federal antitrust law.
In July of 2013, Danny Meyer, the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, tweeted that he was considering eliminating tipping at his restaurants and solicited the opinion of other restaurant owners. Meyer and others eventually followed through on this idea and eliminated tipping at some of their restaurants. Instead, they began charging service fees while also raising menu prices to account for the increase in wages needed to compensate previously tipped employees. A newly filed putative class-action complaint alleges that these no-tipping policies, rather than being undertaken for largely equitable reasons, are in fact a massive antitrust conspiracy among restauranteurs to raise consumer prices.
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
On July 28, 2017, a group of plaintiffs filed a putative class action in the Northern District of California against BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Daimler, and Mercedes-Benz, as well as auto-parts manufacturer Robert Bosch. The suit alleges that, extending as far back as 1996, these five German car manufacturers colluded to suppress competition by agreeing to limit technological advancement, selecting favored suppliers, and exchanging confidential business information. The class-action suit follows recent publications reporting that European Union antitrust officials and the German Cartel Office are investigating allegations of a cartel among these manufacturers.
Eighth Circuit Applies Continuing Violation Doctrine to Extend Statute of Limitations for Sherman Act Claims
Recently in In re Pre-Filled Propane Tank Antitrust Litigation, an en banc panel of the Eighth Circuit clarified the application of the continuing violation exception to the statute of limitations for claims under the Sherman Act. The Court was closely divided, with a 5-to-4 split between the majority opinion and a sharply worded dissent. The majority held that, in an antitrust conspiracy suit, a continuing violation tolls the statute of limitations as long as there were unlawful acts (e.g., sales to the plaintiff) within the limitations period, even if the alleged conspiracy was hatched outside the four-year statute of limitations period. The dissent, however, argued that to avoid dismissal plaintiffs are required to show a live, ongoing conspiracy within the limitations period.
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.
We have not previously reported on an antitrust litigation that is enveloping the mixed martial arts (“MMA”) world. Six current and former MMA fighters have filed a class action lawsuit against the company that owns the UFC, Zuffa, LLC, for violations of the Sherman Act. A review of the docket indicates that the UFC will have to go a few more rounds before it has another opportunity for a knockout.
Second Circuit Declares That, to Survive Motions to Dismiss, Antitrust Allegations Require Factual Support for All “Necessary Premises”
Last Wednesday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals partially vacated the judgment of the district court in In re Actos End-Payor Antitrust Litigation.
In a significant Illinois Brick decision, the Ninth Circuit recently issued an opinion concluding that consumers who purchase apps from Apple’s “app store” directly purchase those apps from Apple, which acts as a distributor. The purchasers therefore have antitrust standing to sue Apple for alleged monopolization of the iPhone app market. The decision could make it easier for consumers to bring antitrust claims against sellers in e-commerce.
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.
It has been over three years since the Supreme Court’s Actavis decision. Since then, numerous putative class actions alleging harm to competition as a result of “reverse-payment” settlements have flooded the courts. The complexity of these cases, along with the vague guidance provided by the Supreme Court, has given rise to intricate questions about how courts should apply Actavis and scrutinize settlements of Hatch-Waxman litigation.
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.
It is not every day that antitrust plaintiff classes fail to win certification due to lack of numerosity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(1). Yet this week, absence of numerosity was the reason a Third Circuit panel reversed an order from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania certifying a class of 22 plaintiffs. The putative class included direct purchasers allegedly injured by reverse-payment agreements between Cephalon and four generic manufacturers of Cephalon’s narcolepsy drug Provigil.
The European Commission on Tuesday announced its decision finding truck makers MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Iveco, and DAF liable for violating EU antitrust rules. The companies acknowledged that for 14 years they colluded in setting truck prices, settling the case for a record total of €2.93 billion. Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager reported that the five-company cartel “account[s] for around 9 out of every 10 medium and heavy trucks produced in Europe.” Vestager also said that the unprecedented fines send a “clear message to companies that cartels are not accepted.”
After Favorable LIBOR Ruling from the Second Circuit, Investors Now Allege Anticompetitive SIBOR Manipulation
On July 5, 2016, investors filed a federal class action [add link to pdf] in the Southern District of New York alleging defendant banks had manipulated the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (SIBOR) “and/or” Singapore Swap Offer Rate (SOR) market, forcing investors to pay artificial prices for financial derivative transactions based on these benchmarks. This lawsuit follows on the heels of the Second Circuit’s decision in In re: LIBOR-Based Financial Instruments Antitrust Litigation, which allowed the case to proceed.
As our loyal readers know, on May 23, 2016, the Second Circuit issued a decision in the In re: LIBOR-Based Financial Instruments Antitrust Litigation vacating the District Court’s prior decision dismissing one case in this consolidated action. Our analysis of that decision is available here. Notably, however, the Second Circuit declined to rule on whether the plaintiffs (the “Plaintiffs”) are “efficient enforcers” of the antitrust laws and remanded that question for the District Court’s consideration.
On June 21, 2016, the United Kingdom Competition Appeal Tribunal (the “Tribunal”) published notice of an application to commence collective proceedings under Section 47B of the UK’s competition act. If this action continues, it will be the first opt-out collective (class action) competition claims to be heard by the Competition Appeal Tribunal.
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.
On May 23, 2016, the Second Circuit issued a long-awaited decision in the In re: LIBOR‐Based Financial Instruments Antitrust Litigation, vacating the District Court’s (Buchwald, J.) prior decision dismissing one case in this consolidated 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.
MLB Settles, Leaving Unanswered Questions: Do Sports Leagues’ Regional Blackout Agreements Violate Antitrust Laws?
In the wake of Major League Baseball’s settlement of antitrust claims on the eve of trial, the central question from the lawsuit remains: are sports leagues’ exclusive broadcasting territories for live games an antitrust violation? Although suits against the MLB and National Hockey League have both settled, analogous antitrust claims are pending against the National Football League, leaving open the possibility that these issues may be finally resolved in the court room.
MLB Pitches Around Consumers by Settling Suit, Avoiding Further Litigation on the Scope of Its Longstanding Antitrust Exemption
We’ve previously written about litigation involving the scope of Major League Baseball’s long-standing antitrust exemption. Earlier this week, on the eve of trial, MLB settled Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a class action lawsuit challenging its territorial broadcasting policy. The lead plaintiff Marc Lerner is a Mississippi resident and New York Yankee fan who was allegedly charged supracompetitive prices to watch the Yankees due to MLB’s territorial broadcast policies. Under MLB’s policy of territorially restricting television broadcasts, consumers could only watch “out-of-market” games subject to certain limitations, including a requirement to purchase every out-of-market game, even if the consumer was only interested in following a single team. By avoiding the bench trial, MLB avoided having to further litigate the scope of its unique “antitrust exemption” in front of Judge Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, who had previously expressed skepticism about the continuing viability of the exemption.
Defendants Summary Judgment Motion in In re Cathode Ray Tube Antitrust Litigation May Illuminate Policy Justifications Behind Ownership or Control Exception
Earlier this month, defendants in the In re Cathode Ray Tube Antitrust Litigation moved to challenge the standing of major retailers to pursue damages claims under the Supreme Court’s 1977 Illinois Brick decision.
In re Capacitors Antitrust Class Action Update: Claims Slightly Narrowed, Parties Continue Discovery
When we last wrote in June 2015 about In re Capacitors Antitrust Litig., No. 14-03264-JD, consolidated putative class actions pending before Judge James Donato in the Northern District of California, the plaintiffs had just largely survived a motion to dismiss. That blog post, which describes the background of the case and the first round of motions to dismiss, is available here. Recently, on December 30, 2015, the court ruled on several additional motions to dismiss based on plaintiffs’ amended complaints.
A settlement agreement last week in the long-running U.S. Cargo Antitrust Class Action brought the settlement fund in that case to over $1.1. billion. Polar Air Cargo, Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings agreed to pay $100 million in three installments. The settlement is the second-largest so far in this case, after Korean Air Lines's agreement in December 2013 to pay $115 million. It is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, where the case is pending.
On December 14, 2015 Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers heard oral argument on a motion to dismiss filed by Apple in an antitrust action brought against the company in connection with its 2007 deal to sell iPhones exclusively to AT&T Mobility. The next day, Judge Rogers denied Apple’s motion. The lawsuit, one of several arising from the Apple-AT&T agreement, raises interesting questions about how to define a relevant product market using an “aftermarket” theory.
As we previously reported (click here, to read more), last month, a jury returned a $6 million verdict for a class plaintiff in a suit alleging that Cox Communications had illegally tied its premium cable services to rentals of its set-top boxes. Yesterday, the court granted Cox’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, overturned the jury’s verdict, and entered judgment for Cox.
We reported earlier today that the jury began deliberations this past Monday in the antitrust class action lawsuit against Cox Communications brought by its premium services subscribers. The jury returned its verdict today in favor of the plaintiffs and found that Cox had violated the Sherman Act by illegally tying its premium cable services to rentals of its set-top boxes. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $6.31 million in damages, which will be trebled to $19 million. The jury awarded damages based on one aspect of the plaintiffs’ claims for fees from set-top box rentals but declined to award damages based on the plaintiffs’ DVR fees. Thus, the damages award came back much lower than the $49 million figure the plaintiffs were seeking.
After a near two-week trial in the consumer class action lawsuit against Cox Communications, the jury began deliberations this past Monday to decide whether Cox’s alleged practice of tying premium cable services to rentals of its cable boxes violated the Sherman Act by harming competition in the set-top box market.
Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit ruled in the long awaited O’Bannon v. NCAA case, which challenged NCAA rules that bar student-athletes from “being paid for the use of their names, images, and likenesses” (NILs) – part of the so-called “amateurism rules.” The Court upheld the district court’s decision finding the NCAA amateurism rules to be an unlawful restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act and upheld part of the district court’s remedy which permanently enjoined the NCAA from prohibiting its member schools from giving student-athletes scholarships up to the full cost of attendance at their respective schools. The Ninth Circuit struck down, however, the district court’s second remedy which would have permanently enjoined the NCAA from prohibiting its member schools from giving student-athletes up to $5,000 per year in deferred compensation.
This past Tuesday, the Seventh Circuit upheld the decision of Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granting cheese manufacturer Schreiber Foods Inc.’s motion for summary judgment in an antitrust class action. The Seventh Circuit agreed with the District Court that the plaintiffs, led by a cheese distributor and a dairy farmer and milk futures trader, lacked evidence to support their claims that Schreiber conspired with Dairy Farmers of America, a dairy marketing cooperative, to increase the price of raw milk.
Last week, we discussed public reports of an investigation by the DOJ of four major airlines (American, Delta, Southwest, and United) regarding possible collusion. Over the past two months, a number of consumers have filed class action complaints against the airlines, putting forward their own theories regarding collusion.
Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion affirming the dismissal of plaintiffs’ consolidated complaint in In re Musical Instruments and Equipment Antitrust Litigation. In addressing plaintiffs’ allegations of a hub-and-spoke conspiracy, the Ninth Circuit reiterated that each component of such a conspiracy (both vertical and horizontal) must be evaluated separately.
The Ninth Circuit issued an order last Friday staying an injunction from U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California in O’Bannon v. NCAA until it reaches a decision on the merits of the appeal.
We have previously posted about United States v. Apple, Inc., a blockbuster trial that ended with Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York concluding that Apple had conspired with five publishing companies to raise the price of e-books. At oral argument before the Second Circuit, the panel hearing Apple’s appeal seemed particularly interested in whether the district court had erred in applying the relatively lenient per se standard rather than the rule of reason, under which the plaintiffs would have had to prove that the anti-competitive injury caused by Apple outweighed any pro-competitive benefits of its conduct.
On March 17, 2015, a Ninth Circuit panel consisting of Chief Judge Sidley R. Thomas, Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee and Senior U.S. District Judge Gordon J. Quist, of the Western District of Michigan heard oral argument in O’Bannon v. NCAA.
Last Friday, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a multidistrict class action brought by Netflix subscribers who claimed the company conspired with Walmart to dominate the online DVD sales and rental markets. In 2005, Netflix and Walmart entered into a promotion arrangement whereby Walmart agreed to transfer its DVD-rental subscribers to Netflix in exchange for 10% of the revenue and a $36 payment for each subscriber Netflix gained through referral. Netflix also agreed to promote Walmart’s DVD sales in exchange for the referrals.
A federal judge in New York on Wednesday allowed a consolidated class action by U.S.-based investors concerning the rigging of the foreign exchange (FX) market to move forward. In denying a motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield ruled that the allegations in the complaint were sufficient to warrant discovery and, possibly, trial.
On January 21, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a highly anticipated decision in a LIBOR-based antitrust class action suit allowing a plaintiff to immediately take a direct appeal from an order dismissing that plaintiff’s complaint in its entirety even when that case has been consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and other cases remain pending in the consolidated action.
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