On November 20, 2017, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia to block AT&T’s attempted acquisition of Time Warner Inc. AT&T (through its cellular network, its fiber-optic television distribution service U-Verse, and its ownership of DirecTv) is a video distributor, and Time Warner (through its ownership of cable networks like TNT, CNN, and HBO) is a video producer. Because the companies primarily operate in different parts of the supply chain of program content, they do not directly compete with one another. A combination of two such companies is known as a “vertical merger.” The DOJ’s decision to try and block AT&T’s bid surprised many observers because it is unusual for the government to object to a vertical merger; in fact, the last time the DOJ actually filed a lawsuit to block or dissolve a vertical merger was forty years ago.
As Germany Targets Facebook’s Data Collection, DOJ Antitrust Division Suggests Friendlier Approach to Data-Powered Digital Market Leaders
Information can be an invaluable asset. This is especially evident in the technology sector, where companies use increasingly sophisticated methods to collect, aggregate, and analyze data. Exclusive possession of data can, of course, confer significant competitive advantages—but may also prompt legal challenges from competitors or scrutiny from regulators. Authorities in France and Germany have investigations underway into whether the collection and use of consumer data by major online platforms including Facebook and Google are having anticompetitive effects. And on December 19, 2017, Germany’s competition authority—the Bundeskartellamt— informed Facebook that it “holds the view that Facebook is abusing [a dominant market position] by making the use of its social network conditional on its being allowed to limitlessly amass every kind of data generated by using third-party websites and merge it with the user’s Facebook account.”
Senate Passes the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act, and Takes Another Shot at Increased Protections for Whistleblowers
On November 15, 2017, the United States Senate passed the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2017 (“CAARA”). This Act would amend the Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 (“ACPERA”), and would provide a civil remedy to persons fired or otherwise discriminated against for reporting potential criminal violations of the antitrust laws.
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.
Senators and court complain of ‘anti-competitive’ transfer of patent rights to American Indian tribe
We have previously discussed antitrust implications of pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to maximize patent protection for their drugs. Consumers and generic drug makers, for instance, have alleged antitrust violations based on “product hopping” and “pay-for-delay” settlements. Recently, a patent owner’s creative technique to avoid possible invalidation of its patent by the Patent and Trademark Office has drawn sharp criticism from lawmakers and one district court.
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.
In a 2-1 decision issued on September 7, 2017, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court decision dismissing antirust claims brought by auto body shops against a group of car insurance companies in the In re Auto Body Shop Antitrust Litigation.
On August 29, 2017, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision dismissing a suit filed by 2012 third-party presidential candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, their running mates, their campaigns, and the parties they represented (together, “Plaintiffs”) against the Commission on Presidential Debates. Plaintiffs alleged that Johnson and Stein were improperly excluded from nationally televised general-election presidential debates in violation of the Sherman Act.
The Department of Justice Antitrust Division recently announced that California-based Custom Wristbands Inc. (d/b/a Kulayful Silicone Bracelets, Kulayful.com, Speedywristbands.com, Promotionalbands.com, Wristbandcreations.com, and 1inchbracelets.com) (“Custom Wristbands”) and its top executive Christopher Angeles agreed to plead guilty for conspiring to fix prices for wristbands and other customized novelty products sold online.
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
Outlet malls are popular destinations for consumers seeking a bargain, even if not everyone agrees that the deals are as good as advertised. But although the prices may seem low, a common provision in lease agreements between the operators of outlet malls and retailers may have reduced competition and raised the prices consumers paid. This week, the operator of the most popular outlet mall in the New York City metropolitan area reached a settlement with the New York Attorney General that may lead to increased competition in the outlet mall space in New York and beyond.
As we noted last month, the FTC has recently been voicing concerns about potentially anticompetitive actions of state professional licensing boards. Our post also discussed the scope of such boards’ immunity from antitrust liability under the Supreme Court’s caselaw.
Last week Markus Meier, the Acting Director of the Bureau of Competition at the Federal Trade Commission, gave testimony to the House Judiciary Committee concerning “Antitrust Concerns and the FDA Approval Process.”
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.
Last week, Sabre filed its principal brief on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to overturn the jury’s verdict of $15 million and find for Sabre or, in the alternative, grant a new trial in US Airways Inc. v. Sabre Holdings Corp. Its primary argument on appeal is that its case should have been governed by United States v. American Express Co., in which the Second Circuit reversed the district court’s finding of anticompetitive harm in a one-sided market because the proper analysis was whether there was anticompetitive harm in a two-sided market.
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.
Last week, a Rhode Island Congressman published a letter he sent to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee requesting that the committee hold a hearing on the recently-announced Amazon-Whole Foods merger. This post explores when and why Congress holds hearings on particular mergers and what power Congress has to stop a merger.
Last month, the FTC staff sent a letter warning North Carolina’s General Assembly that a pending bill regarding the state’s real estate appraisal board could run afoul of competitive principles. The staff notes that it is prepared to investigate and recommend challenges to potentially anticompetitive actions by state appraisal boards. However, in light of Supreme Court precedent on state sovereign immunity, it is not certain that the FTC could successfully challenge state board actions with which it disagrees.
Last Monday, the court denied Qualcomm, Inc.’s motion to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s suit against it for allegedly using anticompetitive tactics to maintain a monopoly in baseband modem chips for cell phones. The FTC contends that Qualcomm is using its standard-essential patents (SEPs) to extract monopoly prices from cell phone and other cellular device manufacturers in violation of its commitment to license its patents on a “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) basis.
On Monday, just a few days after the Justices of the Supreme Court conferred on the cert petition in the Vitamin C price fixing antitrust case, the Court asked the Acting Solicitor General to file a brief “expressing the views of the United States.” The cert petition comes after a Second Circuit decision reversing a $147 million jury award to vitamin C importers who successfully argued in the court below that two Chinese companies fixed the prices of vitamin C exported to the United States in violation of the Sherman Act.
“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.
A new book was recently released about the events surrounding the alleged LIBOR fixing conspiracy. Authored by Wall Street Journal reporter David Enrich, The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Math Genius, a Gang of Backstabbing Bankers, and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History tackles the issues from a unique perspective, focusing on one of the main bankers involved, Tom Hayes. Hayes, formerly a trader at UBS and Citigroup, was prosecuted by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office in 2015. He was convicted of conspiracy to defraud for his role in fixing LIBOR and is serving an 11-year prison sentence.
Multi-Defendant Antitrust Litigation: Lessons Learned from In re: Automotive Parts Antitrust Litigation
Last Friday, in the latest development in the massive auto parts antitrust litigation, the State of California settled with Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd. and related companies regarding their sale of wire harness systems and heater control panels at allegedly supracompetitive prices. (For prior posts on this case, see here and here.) Sumitomo did not admit to any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay California over $800,000 and cooperate with California’s litigation efforts against the many other defendants in the case. Sumitomo and its related entities are the only auto parts defendants named in the State of California’s complaint.
European competition authorities announced this week an investigation into Aspen Pharmacare’s recent price hikes of five cancer drugs. The European Commission said in a press release that it had “information indicating that Aspen has imposed very significant and unjustified price increases of up to several hundred percent.” The Commission is also looking into reports that the South African-based generic drug-maker withdrew or threatened to withdraw the drugs from countries that would not accept these price hikes. If the investigation demonstrates that Aspen abused its alleged dominant market position to increase prices, the Commission could order fines of up to 10 percent of the company’s yearly revenue.
In a split decision, on April 28, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to issue a permanent injunction blocking the merger of Anthem, Inc. and Cigna Corp., two of the nation’s largest health insurance providers. As we’ve previously written, in July 2016, the Department of Justice and attorneys general from multiple states sued to halt the merger pursuant to Section 7 of the Clayton Act, alleging that it would substantially lessen competition in the market for employers purchasing insurance for more than 5,000 employees ( “national accounts”) in multiple states and employers purchasing insurance for more than 50 employees (“large group employers”) in Richmond, Virginia. After a six-week bench trial, the district court enjoined the merger on the basis of its likely substantial anticompetitive effects in both markets.
In the latest development in Woodman’s Food Market v. Clorox—the saga between Clorox and Woodman’s that last year generated a landmark Robinson-Patman Act (RP Act) decision by the Seventh Circuit—Clorox is asking the district court to dismiss Woodman’s remaining Sherman Act claims. If granted, the motion would bring an end to this suit.
The Antitrust Division recently issued its 2017 annual spring update.
The update emphasizes the Division’s recent litigation victories, particularly in the merger context. In his introductory remarks, Assistant Attorney General Brett Snyder noted the Division’s litigation docket is more active—on both the civil and criminal sides—than it has been in recent years.
Last Monday Sanofi brought an antitrust suit against Mylan, alleging that Mylan engaged in illegal conduct to suppress competition in the epinephrine auto-injector (“EAI”) market, which is dominated by Mylan’s billion-dollar EpiPen® product. In particular, Sanofi alleges that Mylan has had a virtual monopoly in the EAI market, but felt threatened when Sanofi entered the market in 2013 with its Auvi-Q® product, which Sanofi touted for its smaller size and voice instructions (as opposed to EpiPen®’s written instructions).
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.
For the third straight legislative session, the House Judiciary Committee has voted in favor of a bill—the Standard Merger and Acquisition Reviews Through Equal Rules (“SMARTER”) Act—that would amend the Clayton Act and Federal Trade Commission Act to align the standards and processes for the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) and Department of Justice’s (DOJ) review of proposed mergers and acquisitions. The SMARTER Act aims to eliminate the current differences in merger review that companies may face depending on whether the proposed merger is reviewed by the DOJ or the FTC.
The incentive is high to identify a Sherman Act violation in your competitor’s conduct—three times higher, to be precise, than to bring a claim for an ordinary business tort or even a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act. But as we noted in December, the Fifth Circuit recently refused to recognize a claim for attempted monopolization under Section 2 based on a defendant’s false advertising “absent a demonstration that [the] false advertisements had the potential to eliminate, or did in fact eliminate, competition.” The court relied on a prior decision in which it expressed “extreme reluctance to allow a treble damage verdict to rest upon business torts alone.” The case is Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton Dickinson & Co.
Media outlets have reported that the U.S. Department of Justice raided the maritime industry’s “Box Club” meeting, which is more formally known as the meeting of the International Council of Containership Operators. Box Club meetings include the CEOs of all major container lines, and even though the meeting locations are not publicly disclosed, the DOJ managed to serve subpoenas in mid-March at the San Francisco meeting, including top executives at A.P. Moller-Maersk, Evergreen, the Orient Overseas Container Line, and Hapag Lloyd. Notably, the subpoena recipients are not U.S.-based companies—the DOJ may have used the Box Club meeting as an opportunity to exercise its subpoena power over foreign entities.
Tying is a chameleon in antitrust law. Courts can condemn tying arrangements as either per se violations or as unlawful under the rule of reason. For a per se tying violation, plaintiff must show that the defendant had economic power in the market for the tying item sufficient to enable it to restrain trade in the tied product market. But a rule of reason analysis also requires consideration of the defendant’s economic power in the tying market, since a seller with no power whatsoever will not be able to coerce purchasers to buy the tied product. Thus, in tying cases, the per se and rule of reason analyses tend to bleed together, leaving courts and litigants without a clear analytical pathway.
In a recent decision, the Third Circuit held that a public university and its non-profit partner were immune from antitrust liability after the university enacted a student residency policy that benefitted on-campus dormitories at the expense of off campus housing. Absent evidence that a university is controlled by participants in the housing market, it is entitled to a presumption that is acting in the public interest and therefore enjoys more deference than a state board composed of active market participants. The takeaway is that state universities seeking immunity from alleged anti-competitive actions must show that their conduct complies with a clearly articulated state policy but need not show active supervision of the university by the state.
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.
Since we last reported on the state and federal government’s generic drug pricing investigations and litigations (click here to read more), the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has obtained its first guilty pleas. On January 9, 2017, Heritage Pharmaceutical Inc.’s former CEO and its former president (the defendants are brothers-in-law) pleaded guilty to manipulating the prices of and divvying up customers for an antibiotic, doxycycline hyclate, and a diabetes medicine, glyburide. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on September 28, 2017, and they face up to ten years of imprisonment. The government’s filings in other lawsuits make clear that the defendants’ sentencing was delayed until the defendants complete their cooperation with the government.
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.
A tale of two mergers: Following their losses in DOJ merger challenges, Anthem fights on and Aetna gives up
In the past month, the DOJ and several state governments scored two trial wins in their challenges to mergers among some of the country’s largest health insurers. First, Judge Bates of the District of Columbia blocked the combination of Aetna and Humana, finding that the “proffered efficiencies do not offset the anticompetitive effects of the merger.” Weeks later, Judge Jackson of the same district scuttled a deal between Anthem and Cigna, which she found “likely to lessen competition substantially” in the relevant market.
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.
President Donald Trump last week designated Maureen K. Ohlhausen as acting chair of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). Ohlhausen is a vocal critic of government involvement in the market, suggesting the FTC under her leadership will employ a lighter touch with regard to enforcement and regulatory actions.
Last week, the FTC filed a complaint against Qualcomm, a manufacturer of baseband processors, which are chips included in cell phones and other products with cellular connectivity that allow the devices to connect to cell networks. Qualcomm holds patents to technologies incorporated in the standards that allow all cell phones to communicate with one another, referred to as standard-essential patents or SEPs. Qualcomm’s patents mostly relate to older, 3G-CDMA cellular technologies, which are still necessary for modern cell phones to work as consumers expect. As a condition of declaring its patents standard-essential, Qualcomm committed to the telecommunications industry’s standard-setting organizations that it would license its patents on a “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) basis.
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.
Federal District Court finds brand-name manufacturer’s alleged regulatory delay tactics a valid theory of attempted monopolization
In a recent decision denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss, Judge Mitchell Goldberg of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania allowed the manufacturer of a generic version of Suboxone to proceed upon an interesting theory of attempted monopolization by the brand-name manufacturer Indivior (formerly, Reckitt). Amneal, the generic manufacturer, alleges that Indivior purposefully delayed what was supposed to be a joint effort to develop a combined risk management strategy for all versions of Suboxone.
DOJ and State AG Investigations Into Generic Pricing Lead to Suits Against Manufacturers and Employees
As we have previously reported, (click, here, here, here, and here to read more), generic drug manufacturers have recently come under intense scrutiny from state and federal regulators for their price hikes. Last week, the Department of Justice and twenty state attorneys general instituted criminal and civil proceedings in connection with alleged generic drug price manipulation.
In a December 2, 2016 decision, Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton Dickinson & Company, the Fifth Circuit opined on when false advertising can lead to liability under the Sherman Act. The Fifth Circuit’s answer: Very rarely.
The trial over Aetna and Humana's $37 billion proposed merger kicked off today in a Washington, D.C. federal court.
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.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week issued antitrust guidelines for human resources (HR) professionals. The guidelines highlight the most common antitrust violations, based on a review of cases in which federal antitrust agencies have taken enforcement actions against employers. There are three main takeaways from this guidance.
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