So, the only real surprise about yesterday’s opinion in North Carolina State Bd of Dental Examiners v. FTC is that it wasn’t unanimous. The strongly worded six-member majority opinion, already receiving early applause (see here and here), is further proof that the only thing the current Supreme Court dislikes more than antitrust plaintiffs is state government pork.
For those of us passionate dorks who follow immunities issues closely (I, for one, only recently emerged from the ashes of this epic book project), North Carolina State Board is a candy store, really much more so than the Court’s other very recent, pro-enforcement state action smackdown, FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health Sys., I [...]
Who would have thought that ductile iron pipe fittings would make for such an interesting antitrust case? While the product might be prosaic, the convoluted facts of the McWane v. FTC case in the 11th Circuit could be used as a law school exam question (and some of us already have). The issues are now boiled down to one of the most controversial ones in antitrust: when is an exclusive dealing arrangement by a monopolist anticompetitive? The appeal of the FTC’s finding of liability is now fully briefed and awaiting oral argument late next week – but it is Commissioner Josh Wright’s dissent from that finding that continues to drive the parties and their respective amicus supporte [...]
The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice Antitrust Division had another active year in antitrust enforcement in 2014.
As for FTC antitrust enforcement efforts, FTC Bureau of Competition Director Deborah L. Feinstein was kind enough to provide a list of the “Ten Competition Happenings for 2014” on the agency’s Competition Matters blog. Her list included four enforcement actions that are worth a second look:
(1) the FTC’s action against two leading propane exchange tank suppliers for allegedly coordinating to reduce the amount of propane in their tanks sold to Walmart (In the Matter of Ferrellgas Partners, L.P., FTC Dkt. 9360);
(2) the Commission’s challenge to the (now aband [...]
Antitrust law debates usually emphasize price effects while other elements of competition get less attention. Three recent writings by leading antitrust thinkers, however, explore the interaction between antitrust law and competition, on the one hand, and innovation, quality and long-term labor markets, respectively, on the other. As summarized below, each piece discusses an attribute of competition other than price that might be used to provide a more accurate description of the dynamic competitive effects in any market.
Professors Spencer Weber Waller and Matthew Sag of Loyola University Chicago School of Law discuss competition law and Promoting Innovation in the Iowa Law Review. (A [...]
On October 14, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, the latest in its long line of cases interpreting the state action exemption to the antitrust laws. Dozens of amici have written briefs supporting both parties. Those briefs reveal significantly different opinions about the costs and benefits of state licensure boards and how their actions should be treated under the antitrust laws.
The state action exemption can be quickly summarized: bona fide state regulation of the economy, even if anticompetitive, is exempt from the federal antitrust laws. Such a quick summary, however, belies the complexities explored in numerous Court [...]
The FTC’s challenge to the now-consummated combination of Phoebe Putney Health System, Inc.—the operator of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital—and rival Palmyra Park Hospital, Inc. in Albany, Georgia, is headed back to administrative litigation. More than a year after announcing a tentative settlement in the case, the FTC has refused to grant final approval to the proposed consent order. On Friday, the Commission issued an order, returning the matter to Part III litigation to determine whether the acquisition reduced competition in the market for acute-care hospital services sold to commercial health plans in a six-county area, as alleged in the agency’s 2011 complaint.
The proposed settle [...]
On June 23, 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice Antitrust Division held a workshop on “conditional pricing practices”—loyalty discounts, bundled discounts and similar pricing techniques. Many economists, academic experts and practitioners, some of them even hailing from outside the Beltway, opined on the rationale for and against antitrust legality of such common marketing practices. The agencies are to be congratulated for leading this discussion and advancing the thinking on this important topic; still, real-world businesses continue to look for clearer guidance than what has been provided by the agencies and courts to date, but the conference promis [...]
Commissioner Josh Wright of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission certainly is the gift that keeps on giving to antitrust commentators. Rarely do many weeks go by without a Wright speech or dissenting opinion that cogently takes on an interesting competition issue, often one captured in an action by his fellow commissioners. Last month’s example was a speech to the New York City Bar Association provocatively titled, “Does the FTC Have a New IP Agenda?” Wright believes the answer to his question is “yes,” and that the shift is not helpful. Much of the support for Wright’s assertion of a change comes from two FTC matters that predate his tenure and alarmed the business communit [...]
In case you missed some of those morning sessions at the American Bar Association Section of Antitrust Law Spring Meeting last week, here are some of the highlights from the updates with federal and state enforcers.
Agency Update with the Deputy Assistant Attorneys General
There were some new faces on the panel this year at the Section’s annual update from the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. In addition to changes in leadership, over the last year the Antitrust Division has seen an increase in hiring that will support its continued enforcement activities, the enforcers reported during the March 26 session.
David Gelfand and Brent Snyder are the newest deputy assistant attorneys gen [...]
The Federal Trade Commission is meant to be, and is, an expert body on antitrust laws. So, when a case like McWane—that raises both collusion and exclusion issues—is in front of the FTC, it seems reasonable to expect to receive guidance that is more helpful than we might get from a jury or generalist judge on two questions important to those of us who counsel clients daily. Unfortunately, the two opinions in this matter raise more questions than they answer.
McWane, Inc. is the only U.S. producer of ductile iron pipe fittings and one of a small number of sellers of the product in the country. McWane was accused by the FTC both of excluding its few rivals from the domestically-produ [...]