Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Antitrust & Trade Regulation
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Inline filed suit against its competitor, Graphic, alleging antitrust and tortious interference claims related to the susceptor-packaging market.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Graphic, holding that the district court did not err concluding that there was no genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Graphic fraudulently procured patents on packaging concepts and designs through false claims of inventorship of the asserted patents and fraudulently concealed prior sales of drawing sample sleeves. In this case, Inline cannot establish that Graphic committed knowing and willful fraud and thus his monopolization claim under 15 U.S.C. 2 failed. Because Inline did not evidence fraud related to Graphic's procurement of the asserted patents and its prior sales of drawing sample sleeves 50019D/F, it has not established why the same set of facts and evidence would render Graphic's patent-infringement litigation objectively baseless. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the sham-litigation claim. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the discount-bundling claim because Inline failed to show that Graphic held sufficient monopoly or market power, and the district court adequately assessed the record and did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Inline's economic expert's untimely market opinion. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Inline's exclusive dealing claim and tortious interference claim. View "Inline Packaging, LLC v. Graphic Packaging International, LLC" on Justia Law

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D&G filed an antitrust suit against C&S, on behalf of all grocery retailers, alleging that C&S agreed with another grocery wholesaler, SuperValu, not to compete for customers in certain geographical areas. The jury returned a verdict in favor of C&S. The Eighth Circuit held that the jury instructions fairly and adequately submitted the issues and affirmed the judgment. The court explained that while it is true that an agreement to allocate either customers or territories could violate the Sherman Act, D&G's theory in this case melded the two. The court concluded that it was understandable and consistent with the evidence and arguments for the district court to instruct that D&G must prove that "C&S agreed that it would not compete with Supervalu for new customers in certain territories or geographic areas." Furthermore, the reference in the verdict form to "an Unwritten Agreement to divide territories and customers along geographic lines" is consistent with D&G's primary theory throughout the case—namely, that C&S and SuperValu agreed to allocate new customers in the Midwest to one company and new customers in New England to the other. Therefore, there was ample room under the jury instructions to find liability. Finally, the court was not convinced that the verdict form misled the jury. View "D&G, Inc. v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc." on Justia Law

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The FTC and the State of North Dakota moved to enjoin Sanford Bismarck's acquisition of Mid Dakota, alleging that the merger violated section 7 of the Clayton Act. The district court determined that plaintiffs would likely succeed in showing the acquisition would substantially lessen competition in four types of physician services in the Bismarck-Mandan area. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction, holding that the district court did not improperly shift the ultimate burden of persuasion to defendants and properly followed the analytical framework in U.S. v. Baker Hughes, Inc., 908 F.ed 981 (D.C. Cir. 1990); the district court did not clearly err in defining the relevant market; and the district court's finding on merger-specific efficiencies was not clear error. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Sanford Health" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Irmat's complaint against Express Scripts, alleging various contract claims, a promissory estoppel claim, and violations of federal antitrust laws and state Any Willing Provider laws. The court held that the inclusion of Express Scripts's unilateral right to terminate the agreement between the parties upon thirty days written notice was, by itself, insufficient to support a claim of unconscionability; the agreement was not unconscionable because it was a non-negotiable form contract (i.e., a contract of adhesion); Express Scripts did not violate its duty of good faith and fair dealing when it terminated Irmat from its network; and the e-mail Express Scripts sent to Irmat in August 2015 did not constitute a novation where it lacked essential contractual provisions. The court also held that Irmat failed to plausibly plead promissory estoppel. Finally, the court rejected Irmat's claim that Express Scripts violated Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, and that Express Scripts violated the Any Willing Provider laws. Irmat was not entitled to leave to amend its complaint. View "Park Irmat Drug Corp. v. Express Scripts Holding Co." on Justia Law

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Defendants are the nation’s largest distributors of pre-filled propane exchange tanks, which come in a standard size. Before 2008, Defendants filled the tanks with 17 pounds of propane. In 2008, due to rising prices, Defendants reduced the amount in each tato 15 pounds, maintaining the same price. Plaintiffs, indirect purchasers, who bought tanks from retailers, claimed this effectively raised the price. In 2009, plaintiffs filed a class action alleging conspiracy under the Sherman Act. Plaintiffs settled with both Defendants. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission issued a complaint against Defendants, which settled in 2015 by consent orders, for conspiring to artificially inflate tank prices. In 2014, another group of indirect purchasers (Ortiz) brought a class action against Defendants, alleging: “Despite their settlements, Defendants continued to conspire, and ... maintained their illegally agreed-upon fill levels, preserving the unlawfully inflated prices." The Ortiz suit became part of a multidistrict proceeding that included similar allegations by direct purchasers (who bought tanks directly from Defendants for resale). The Eighth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the direct-purchaser suit as time-barred, holding that each sale in a price-fixing conspiracy starts the statutory period running again. The court subsequently held that the indirect purchasers inadequately pled an injury-in-fact and lack standing to pursue an injunction to increase the fill levels of the tanks and may not seek disgorgement of profits. View "Ortiz v. Ferrellgas Partners, L.P." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Ferrellgas and AmeriGas under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, alleging that defendants artificially inflated prices for propane gas tanks and had conspiratorial communications about pricing and fill levels. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims as barred by the statute of limitations. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing the claims because each sale to the plaintiffs in a price-fixing conspiracy starts the statutory period running again. In this case, the amended complaint adequately pleaded a continuing violation sufficient to restart the statute of limitations. View "Larson v. Ferrellgas Partners" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, retail grocers, filed putative class actions against two large full-line wholesale grocers, alleging that the wholesalers' contract to exchange retailer supply agreements constituted market allocation in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. Plaintiffs formed the Midwest Class and the New England Class, each class having an Arbitration Subclass of retailers who had arbitration agreements with their current (post-swap) wholesaler. The district court dismissed the purported representatives of the Arbitration Subclasses and the court reversed. At that point, the district court had rejected the proposed Midwest and New England classes and granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court reversed, ordering the district court to consider a narrower Midwest class. On remand, Colella moved to intervene to join Village Market, the New England Arbitration Subclass representative, in seeking to certify a narrower New England class. The district court denied the motion and announced that it would not consider any new class of New England plaintiffs. The court concluded that it does not have discretion to hear Village Market's appeal under Rule 23(f). The court explained that an order that leaves class-action status unchanged from what was determined by a prior order was not an order granting or denying class action certification. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Colella's motion to intervene as time-barred. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Colella's Super Market, Inc. v. SuperValu, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, retail grocers, filed putative class actions against two large full-line wholesale grocers, alleging that the wholesalers' contract to exchange retailer supply agreements constituted market allocation in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. Plaintiffs formed the Midwest Class and the New England Class, each class having an Arbitration Subclass of retailers who had arbitration agreements with their current (post-swap) wholesaler. Each Arbitration Subclass filed suit against only its previous wholesaler, with which it no longer had a current arbitration agreement. The district court dismissed the Arbitration Subclasses from the case. On remand, the district court rejected the wholesalers' alternate successors-in-interest theory and the wholesaler's third alternate theory that they could directly enforce their previous arbitration agreements because some of the conduct at issue occurred when the previous agreements were still in effect. The court concluded that the district court did not err by rejecting the successors-in-interest theory where the court was not aware of any authority supporting the proposition that a predecessor-in-interest bears a sufficiently close relationship to a successor-in-interest such that the predecessor-in-interest can compel arbitration under an agreement to which only the successor-in-interest is a signatory. The court rejected the direct enforcement argument, concluding that wholesalers may not directly enforce the arbitration agreements to which they are no longer signatories. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Millennium Operations v. SuperValu" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims for damages in their action against Ferrellgas and AmeriGas under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants acted in concert to reduce the amount of propane contained within pre-filled propane tanks while maintaining the same price per tank, and thus artificially increasing the price of the tanks. Here, plaintiffs allege that reduction in fill levels, and thus the effective price increase, occurred in 2008, almost immediately after defendants reached the unlawful agreement. Plaintiffs have not alleged any overt acts within the four year limitations period that were new and independent acts, uncontrolled by the initial agreement. Therefore, the court concluded that plaintiffs' claims are time-barred and the court's conclusion reflects the objectives of Congress in encouraging timely lawsuits for the public good. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Larson v. Ferrellgas Partners" on Justia Law

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In April 2014, two consumers filed a class action against BF Labs, asserting “deceptive and unconscionable business practices” in marketing and selling Bitcoin mining machines. Five months later, the Federal Trade Commission sued BF for unfair and deceptive acts, 15 U.S.C. 45(a). The court stayed pending suits and imposed a receivership. The stay was subsequently lifted. The two consumers were denied leave to intervene in the FTC action. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that the interests of the consumers’ proposed class are subsumed within the public interest because the FTC, on behalf of consumers, sought relief for the same “deceptive and unconscionable business practices” alleged by the consumers. The consumers have not made the necessary “strong showing of inadequate representation.” View "Alexander v. Fed. Trade Comm'n" on Justia Law