California District Court Rules Antitrust Claims Against Hollywood Foreign Press Don’t Make Final Cut
On March 23, 2021, Judge Stanley Blumenfeld, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed amended antitrust claims brought by two entertainment journalists against the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (“HFPA”). Flaa v. Hollywood Foreign Press Ass’n, No. 2:20-cv-06974-SB (C.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2021).
NCAA Athletes’ Case Goes To Highest Court In The Land: The Supreme Court Hears Argument On Sherman Act Challenge To NCAA Eligibility Rules On Compensation For Student-Athletes
On March 31, 2021, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in the consolidated cases National Collegiate Athletic Associate v. Alston
(No. 20-520) and American Athletic Conference v. Alston
(No. 20-512). These cases were previously covered as part of our preview of the current Supreme Court term
. Plaintiffs below – NCAA student-athletes – challenged the NCAA’s limits on education-related benefits to student athletes as unreasonable restraints on competition for the student-athletes’ services that violated Section One of the Sherman Act. After a lengthy trial, the district court agreed and entered an injunction in favor of plaintiffs. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court had properly applied the rule of reason to the challenged rules, that the rules had significant anticompetitive effects, and that plaintiffs had established that less restrictive alternatives to the existing rules were viable in that they were “virtually as effective” in achieving the procompetitive purposes of the joint venture. The case-specific issue presented to the Supreme Court is whether the Ninth Circuit erred in affirming the district court’s judgment that the NCAA eligibility rules regarding compensation of student-athletes violated the Sherman Act. But the case may have broader implications in how courts analyze a joint venture’s restraints on competition under the rule of reason, including how courts should evaluate claims that a defendant joint venture could have or should have used less restrictive means to accomplish its procompetitive goal.
Maryland District Court Refuses To Send Poultry Workers’ Claims To Chopping Block In Wage Fixing Class Action
On March 10, 2021, Judge Stephanie Gallagher of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland denied defendants’ motions to dismiss antitrust claims brought by a putative class of poultry workers asserting that poultry processing companies unlawfully exchanged compensation data and conspired to fix and depress employee wages. Jien v. Perdue Farms, Inc., No. 1:19-CV-2521-SAG (D. Md. March 10, 2021).
California District Court Cuts Cord On Subcontractor’s Antitrust Claims Against Cable Provider
On November 17, 2020, Judge Troy Nunley of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California granted summary judgment for Comcast, dismissing claims brought by a cable installation subcontractor alleging that Comcast engaged in unlawful anticompetitive activity in violation of state antitrust laws. Clear Connection Corp. v. Comcast Cable Commc’ns. Mgmt., LLC, No. 2:12-cv-02910-TLN-DB (E.D. Cal. Nov. 17, 2020).
Northern District Of California Engages In Tech Companies’ Fortnite Battle
On October 9, 2020, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted in part and denied in part Epic Games’ motion for preliminary injunction against Apple, Inc. Epic Games, Inc. v. Apple Inc. , No. 4:20-cv-05640-YGR (N. D. Cal. 2020). Plaintiff Epic Games (“Epic”) sought to reinstate its popular video game, Fortnite, to the Apple App Store and to regain its access to Apple’s developer tools. The Court declined to reinstate Fortnite to Apple’s App Store, but ordered Apple to allow Epic’s corporate affiliates access to its developer tools.
The Supreme Court Of California Clarifies The Legal Standards For Economic Torts And For California Business & Professions Code Section 16600 Claims
On August 3, 2020, a unanimous California Supreme Court clarified the legal standards for claims alleging tortious interference with contracts that are terminable at will and the substantive standard for review of alleged violations of California Business and Professions Code section 16600’s prohibition against restraints on the freedom to engage in a business. Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc., No. S256927, 2020 WL 4432623 (Cal. Aug. 3, 2020). On appeal from the Eastern District of California, the Ninth Circuit (Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc., 930 F.3d 1031 (9th Cir. 2019)) asked the California Supreme Court to answer two certified questions on unresolved issues of California law: (1) whether a plaintiff must plead an independently wrongful act to state a claim for tortious interference with a contract that is terminable at will; and (2) whether a contract is void under section 16600 where it restrains one entity from engaging in lawful business or trade with another entity.
Northern District Of Illinois Dismisses Antitrust Claims Relating To World’s Most Profitable Drug—Humira (Adalimumab)
On June 8, 2020, Judge Manish Shah of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Eastern Division) granted AbbVie’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s Sherman Act claims because the allegations fell “short of alleging the kind of competitive harm remedied by antitrust law.” In re Humira (Adalimumab) Antitrust Litigation, No. 1:19-cv-01873 (N.D. Il. 2020). Plaintiffs are two separate classes of indirect purchasers in a consolidated class action alleging that pharmaceutical manufacturer AbbVie, in concert with competing biosimilar manufacturers (Amgen, Samsung Bioepis, and Sandoz), violated §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act by improperly exercising monopoly power over the market for the drug Adalimumab.
Court Orders NCAA To Pay Student Athletes’ $33M Legal Bill After Successful Antitrust Challenge To NCAA Rules But Declines To Apply A Multiplier
On December 23, 2019, Magistrate Judge Nathaniel M. Cousins of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order directing the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) to pay $31.8 million in attorney fees and $1.3 million in costs incurred by plaintiffs in their antitrust challenge to certain NCAA rules governing compensation for student-athletes. In re National Collegiate Athletic Association Athletic Grant-in-aid Cap Antitrust Litigation, No. 4:14-md-02541 (N.D. Ca. Dec. 23, 2019).
Southern District Of New York Dismisses “Truly Novel” Restraint Of Trade Theory In Pharmaceutical Antitrust Action
On October 8, 2019, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York Ronnie Abrams dismissed all but one claim in a putative antitrust class action brought against Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. and various Takeda entities, as well as generic manufacturers Teva Pharmaceuticals, Ranbaxy Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Actavis PLC, and Mylan Inc. In re: Actos Direct Purchaser Antitrust Litigation, No. 1:15-cv-03278 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 8, 2019). The class complaint alleged that Takeda illegally conspired with the other defendants to delay generic competition for its blockbuster diabetes drug Actos through a series of patent settlement agreements, which granted the other defendants non-exclusive licenses to produce generic Actos at a future date prior to the expiration of Takeda’s patents. The Court dismissed these conspiracy claims, finding that plaintiffs’ “truly novel” theory for why the settlement agreements between Takeda and the other defendants violated the antitrust laws lacked “even a colorable basis” of support. The Court’s decision left in place one remaining claim against Takeda for monopolization.
Reversing Prior Order, Utah District Court Holds Per Se Rule Applies To Customer Allocation Agreement
On February 21, 2019, Judge David Sam of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah reversed course and found that a per se standard applies to a market allocation agreement among competitors in the heir location services market. Judge Sam initially found that the more lenient rule of reason standard should apply. However, following a recent Tenth Circuit ruling, Judge Sam held it is the form of the agreement—not the type of industry—that compels the appropriate standard of review. United States of America, v. Kemp & Associates, Inc. and Daniel J. Mannix, No. 2:16CR403 DS, 2019 WL 763796 (D. Utah Feb. 21, 2019).
Department Of Justice Seeks To Intervene In No-Poach Class Action To Counter Arguments That Such Agreements Are Per Se Illegal
On January 25, 2019, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division filed a Notice of Intent to File a Statement of Interest in Myrriah Richmond et al. v. Bergey Pullman Inc., et al., No. 2:18-cv-00246, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The Notice follows a barrage of settlements between fast-food chains and state antitrust enforcers involving the chains’ “no-poach” agreements—that is, agreements between a franchisor and franchisees that restrict the hiring of one franchisee’s employees by another franchisee. The Justice Department’s decision to involve itself in Myrriah Richmond is significant. By emphasizing—as its Notice did—that such franchisor-franchisee no-poach agreements are “vertical restraints” subject to the rule-of-reason (rather than illegal per se, or subject to only a “quick look” analysis of legality), the Justice Department provides analytic clarity and useful guidance as courts address the growing number of actions challenging different variations of no-poach agreements in different factual scenarios.
United States District Court For The Eastern District of New York Rejects One-Sided Market And Single-Brand Market Definitions In Credit Card Antitrust Litigation
On January 14, 2019, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted defendant American Express’ motion for summary judgment as to three of the four relevant markets proposed by the plaintiffs in their antitrust challenge to the “anti-steering” provisions in American Express’s merchant contracts. In re American Express Anti-Steering Rules Antitrust Litigation, No. 11-MD-2221 (NGG) (RER) (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2019). Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in a parallel challenge to the same contractual provisions by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and several states, Ohio v. American Express Company, 138 S. Ct. 2274 (2018), Judge Garaufis rejected the retail merchant plaintiffs’ proposed product market definitions that were limited to the merchant side of card transactions, i.e., the “one-sided” markets, finding that the Supreme Court’s decision required an examination of competition on both sides of the credit card platform – the cardholder side and the merchant side – i.e., the “two-sided” market. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to limit the relevant product market to American Express card transactions (the “Amex-only market”) because other general purpose credit and charge cards are reasonably interchangeable with American Express cards and therefore in the same relevant product market. American Express did not move for summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ two-sided, all general purpose credit card market definition, and the case will proceed to trial on that theory.
Western District Of Washington Rejects Per Se Rule, But Allows Cinnabon Worker’s No-Poach Class Action To Proceed After “Quick Look” Analysis
On November 13, 2018, Judge Robert J. Bryan of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington denied a motion to dismiss a class action complaint by a former fast-food worker alleging that the company’s agreement to prohibit the re-hiring of one franchisee’s employees by another franchisee violates the Sherman Antitrust Act. Yi v. SK Bakeries LLC, et al., No. 3:18-cv-05627, Dkt. No. 33 (W.D. Wa. Nov. 13, 2018). Judge Bryan did, however, caution plaintiff against relying solely on a “quick look” theory, and suggested that whether franchisees are, in fact, a “single entity” incapable of conspiring with one another is a fact-specific question that did not merit a pleading-stage dismissal.
Jury In The Eastern District Of Pennsylvania Finds No Liability For Egg Producers In Alleged Price Fixing Suit
On June 14, 2018, a jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found three egg producers not liable for violating Section 1 of the Sherman Act based on an alleged conspiracy to restrict the supply of egg-laying hens and artificially inflate the price of eggs. In re Processed Eggs Prods. Antitrust Litig., 2:08-md-02002 (E.D. Pa. June 14, 2018).
United States Federal Trade Commission Administrative Law Judge Dismisses Complaint Challenging Reverse Payment Settlement Between Pharmaceutical Manufacturers
On May 11, 2018, U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell issued an initial decision ruling that a reverse payment settlement by Endo Pharmaceuticals (“Endo”) with Impax Laboratories (“Impax”) did not violate Section 5 of the FTC Act, and dismissing the FTC’s complaint. In the Matter of Impax Labs
, Docket No. 9373 (Initial Decision, May 11, 2018). Judge Chappell concluded that despite the reverse payment Endo made to Impax, the anticompetitive harm arising from the settlement was “largely theoretical,” and that the settlement’s procompetitive benefits outweighed any anticompetitive effect from the agreement. The initial decision is the first administrative ruling on a reverse payment trial since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Actavis
decision. The decision has been noticed for appeal to the Commission.
U.S. District Court For The District Of New Jersey Dismisses Class Action For Failure To Identify Concerted Action And Relevant Market
On January 9, 2018, Judge William J. Martini of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed with prejudice a putative class action brought by a purchaser of Jaguar vehicles against Jaguar Land Rover North America LLC, Jaguar Land Rover Limited (collectively, the “manufacturer defendants”), their dealers, and a third-party consulting company. Baar v. Jaguar Land Rover North Am., LLC, et al
., No. 2:17-04142 (D.N.J. Jan. 9, 2018). Plaintiff alleged that defendants unreasonably restrained trade by implementing and enforcing a no-export agreement that prohibited purchasers from reselling Jaguar’s vehicles abroad for at least one year. The Court held that the plaintiff’s complaint failed to state a violation of federal or state antitrust laws because it did not adequately allege (1) concerted action among the defendants, or (2) that Jaguar’s no-export policy produced anticompetitive effects within a cognizable antitrust product and geographic market.
Administrative Law Judge Upholds FTC Complaint Alleging That 1-800 Contacts Violated Section 5 Of The FTC Act By Unlawfully Restricting Online Competitor Advertising Through Anticompetitive Settlement Agreements
On October 27, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission announced a ruling by Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell finding that online contact lens retailer 1-800 Contacts unlawfully restrained competition in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act by restricting its competitors’ online search-based advertising through series of settlement agreements resolving trademark litigation it had filed against those competitors. In the Matter of 1-800 Contacts, Inc., Docket No. 9372
(U.S. Trade Commission, Oct. 27, 2017). In upholding the FTC’s complaint, ALJ Chappell found that the FTC had proved that the restrictions on the use of certain keywords in search-based advertising caused actual harm to consumers and competition in the market for the online sale of contact lenses in the United States and that the respondent 1-800 Contacts had failed to prove that the settlement agreements had countervailing procompetitive benefits that outweighed their harm to competition. As relief, the ALJ issued a broad remedial order prohibiting 1-800 Contacts from, inter alia
, entering into any agreement that restricts a competitor’s ability to participate in search advertising auctions. Just as the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Federal Trade Commission v. Actavis, Inc.
, 133 S. Ct. 2223 (2013), raised difficult questions as to how litigants could resolve patent disputes over pharmaceutical products, this decision raises difficult questions over potential settlements of trademark disputes, particularly in the context of internet search advertising.
Eastern District Of North Carolina Finds Plaintiff Plausibly Pleads Tying Claims In Foam Insulation Antitrust Case
On October 24, 2017, Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the Eastern District of North Carolina declined to dismiss monopolization and other antitrust claims based on alleged tying and exclusive dealing of foam insulation products against Armacell, Inc. K-Flex, Inc. v. Armacell, Inc.
, No. 5:17-CV-279-BO (E.D.N.C. Oct. 24, 2017). The Court held that plaintiff K-Flex, Inc.’s complaint plausibly alleged that Armacell violated Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1 & 2), Section 3 of the Clayton Act (15 U.S.C. § 14), and North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (N.C.G.S.A. § 75-1.1), by conditioning sales of one product – polyethylene or “PE” foam insulation, as to which Armacell had substantial market power – on the distributor’s agreement to purchase a second type of insulation product – elastomeric foam insulation - exclusively from Armacell and coercing a distributor to terminate the plaintiff. The opinion is notable in sustaining a monopolization claim against a manufacturer based largely on an alleged exclusive dealing/tying arrangement with a single regional distributor.