Third Circuit Says “Umbrella Damages” Bar Does Not Preclude Antitrust Standing Where Product Is Partly Comprised of Materials Not Subject to the Alleged Conspiracy
In a case of first impression, the Third Circuit recently held in In re Processed Egg Products Antitrust Litigation, No. 16-3795, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2698 (3d Cir. Jan. 22, 2018), that a direct purchaser of a product, comprised partly (but not all) of price-fixed materials, has antitrust standing to pursue a claim against the product’s seller where the seller is a participant in the alleged price-fixing conspiracy, even if the product also includes some material supplied by a third-party non-conspirator.
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.
The Department of Justice ("DOJ") sued this week to stop Deere & Co.'s acquisition of Monsanto Co.'s Precision Planting, explaining that the deal would harm farmers. The companies make high-speed precision planting systems, which allow farmers to plant uniformly spaced crops at double the speed of conventional planters. The deal would give Deere at least 86 percent of the market for this planting technology, the DOJ said.
Monsanto's Indian joint venture has come under fire anew for allegedly anti-competitive behavior.
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.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last week reversed a jury verdict and rendered judgment for American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in a much-contested antitrust case about AQHA's ban of cloned horses. The Fifth Circuit left open the possibility that a single entity like AQHA could conspire with its own members or sub-parts. The takeaway? Without transparency in decision-making procedures, organizations can find themselves vulnerable in antitrust litigation.
Last week we posted a discussion concerning effective antitrust corporate compliance programs, and provided some factors that in-house counsel should consider in developing compliance programs governing employees’ communications with competitors and dealings with customers and suppliers. Today we continue that discussion by addressing the relevant factors in compliance programs concerning monopolization and dominance and price discrimination.
With DOJ’s Antitrust Division and the FTC ramping up antitrust enforcement, it is critical for companies to take a hard look at their compliance programs and update them on a regular basis to avoid potential antitrust violations and discover antitrust malfeasance early on so a company can have the option of self-reporting and applying for leniency under DOJ’s leniency program. The United States Sentencing Guidelines provide guidance to companies in the organization of their corporate antitrust compliance programs; Guidelines considerations include establishing standards and procedures to prevent and detect criminal conduct and monitoring, auditing and periodically evaluating compliance with the program, including providing anonymous or confidential means for reporting potential breaches. In addition to these threshold requirements, it is important that any antitrust compliance program provide guidance in a number of areas that present potential pitfalls. Today, we discuss guidance on communications with competitors and dealing with customers and suppliers.