Articles Posted in Antitrust & Trade Regulation

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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

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Graco manufactures fast-set spray foam equipment (FSE) and sells it to distributors, who resell to consumers like Insulate. In 2005 and 2008 Graco purchased competing FSE manufacturers, ultimately raising its market share “to above 90%.” In 2007, Graco sent a letter to its distributors citing the “best efforts” clause in its distributor agreements, stating: It is our opinion that taking on an additional competitive product line may significantly reduce the “best efforts” of a Graco distributor.” In 2009, Foampak, a Graco distributor, considered carrying Gama products but chose not to after Graco threatened to end its distributorship. Graco sued Gama, alleging theft of trade secrets; Gama counterclaimed that Graco had unilaterally monopolized the FSE market (Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2). In 2013, the FTC accused Graco of unlawfully acquiring its competitors (Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. 18). Graco and the FTC entered a consent agreement which confirmed Graco would not engage in any practice “that has the purpose or effect of achieving Exclusivity with any Distributor.” The agreement did “not constitute an admission by [Graco] that the law ha[d] been violated.” Insulate filed suit. The Eighth Circuit affirmed dismissal on the pleadings. Insulate did not adequately plead concerted action in the existence of written anticompetitive contracts or implied exclusivity agreements. View "Insulate SB, Inc. v. Advanced Finishing Sys., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Robbinses provide towing and wrecker services along the I-44 corridor in eastern Missouri. State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Troops C and I, pursuant to MSHP policy, used a “rotation list” of approved towing and wrecking companies to determine which company to call to the scene of a disabled vehicle if the vehicle owner had no preference. The Robbinses were on both lists until they were removed, reportedly because Robbins had been charged with shooting at a competitor’s truck in 1999. The Robbinses alleged the criminal charge resulted from a “sham investigation” and that their competitor used a friendship with an MSHP officer, with whom Robbins had had a confrontation, to harm the Robbinses’ business. A jury acquitted Robbins, but they were never reinstated to either list. In 2005, the Robbinses sued the MSHP. The state court determined the MSHP lacked statutory authority to create a rotation list. In 2010, the Robbinses sued officers in their individual capacities, alleging due process and equal protection violations and conspiracy to violate those rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and violations of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, 2, claiming that the officers conspired to deny them work and disparaged their business. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the officers. View "Robbins v. Becker," on Justia Law

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D&G filed suit against wholesalers under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and Section 4 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. 15(a), and moved for class certification. The court concluded that this case presented a factual dispute about the real terms of the wholesalers' agreement and this genuine material factual dispute prevented summary judgment as to whether a per se violation occurred; the court denied summary judgment under the rule of reason where D&G submitted enough evidence to create a genuine factual dispute about the relevant market and the injury caused by the wholesalers' alleged antitrust violation; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying class certification for all SuperValu customers in the Midwest region; the court vacated the denial of D&G's request to certify a narrower class of SuperValu customers who were charged according to the ABS formula and supplied from Champaign, Illinois; and the district court correctly concluded that 15 U.S.C. 15b does not render D&G's claims untimely. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "D&G, Inc. v. SuperValu, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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This case concerned the 2011 NFL lockout. Active NFL players filed a class action suit (Brady suit) against the NFL, alleging violations of the federal antitrust laws and other claims. Retired NFL players also filed suit against the NFL and its teams, alleging antitrust violations (Eller I suit). After both actions were consolidated, the Brady suit was settled, the players re-designated the NFLPA as their collective bargaining agent, the NFL and NFLPA signed a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) incorporating the settlement terms, the Brady plaintiffs dismissed their action, the lockout ended, and the 2011 NFL season commenced. Carl Eller and other retired NFL players (plaintiffs) then filed this class action (Eller II) against the NFLPA and others. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss and plaintiffs appealed, alleging claims for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage under Minnesota law. The court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that plaintiffs had a reasonable expectation of a prospective separate contractual relation with the NFL that would provide more than the increased benefits provided in the 2011 CBA. Even if plaintiffs alleged a reasonable expectation of prospective contractual relations or economic advantage with the NFL, plaintiffs failed to allege facts proving that defendants improperly or wrongfully interfered with these advantageous prospects. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Eller, et al. v. NFL Players Assoc., et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, five retail grocers, each attempting to bring class-action antitrust claims against one of two wholesale grocers, appealed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs claims from the putative class action. The court held that the non-signatory defendants could not use equitable estoppel to compel arbitration of plaintiffs' claims. Since the district court found the equitable estoppel issue dispositive, it did not address the successor-in-interest argument and therefore, the court remanded for the district court to consider this argument in the first instance. The court concluded that the remaining public policy arguments were moot or the court declined to issue an advisory opinion. View "King Cole Foods, Inc., et al v. SuperValu, Inc., et al" on Justia Law