Despite the annual slow down in appellate courts (as in the rest of the world) at this time of year, December 2011 has seen a spate of major antitrust decisions being handed down. As I know from experience, antitrust cases are about as complex as it comes, and as a result, they often require long opinions to decide. It may be that these decisions’ release dates might have something to do with busy judges putting off these time-consuming decisions to the end of the year, but wanting to get them out before they became part of year-end unresolved case statistics. But that would only be a guess.
In any event, major decisions have recently come down at the federal level from the 3rd and 11th Circuits, and on the state level from Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal.
The 4th DCA’s decision in MYD Marine Distributor, Inc. v. International Paint Ltd. (released on December 14, 2011) takes on the U.S. Supreme Court’s major decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), which requires plaintiffs pleading claims based on antitrust conspiracies to include detailed factual allegations supporting the assertion that the defendants entered into an unlawful agreement, and Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877 (2007), which set down standards for pleading that a conspiracy harmed competition. The 4th DCA held that both decisions apply to cases filed in Florida state court asserting claims under the Florida Antitrust law. But it also held that MYD’s complaint, which alleged that its competitor marine paint distributors had conspired with one another as well as with the manufacturer of a premium paint for boats to have MYD cut off as a distributor of that paint because MYD was undercutting their prices.
The 11th Circuit’s decision, FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health System, Inc. (released on December 9, 2011) threw a wrench in the Federal Trade Commision’s campaign to take on consolidation among large healthcare facilities that threaten competition and contribute to rising healthcare costs. In the Phoebe Putney case, the FTC sought to enjoin the acquisition by a public hospital of its only competitor in Dougherty County, Georgia, and thereby create a monopoly in that market.
In an opinion authored by Judge Tjoflat, the 11th Circuit agreed that the transaction would create a monopoly but affirmed the dismissal of the FTC’s case, holding that the “state action doctrine” made antitrust laws inapplicable and rendered the FTC powerless to challenge the transaction. In essence, the court held that in authorizing public hospitals like Phoebe Putney to acquire other hospitals, the Georgia legislature had contemplated and authorized even acquisitions that created monopolies. The state action doctrine therefore exempted the transaction from antitrust scrutiny. This decision essentially forecloses the FTC and DOJ from challenging any merger in Georgia involving a public hospital, and its reasoning could result in foreclosing challenges to acquisitions involving public hospitals in other states as well.
The 3rd Circuit’s en banc decision in Sullivan v. DB Investments, Inc. (released on December 20, 2011), is a significant decision dealing with antitrust class actions brought by alleged “indirect purchasers” of price-fixed goods. The en banc court held that it is appropriate (at least in the settlement context) to certify a nationwide class of indirect purchasers asserting antitrust claims under the laws of all 50 states, even though class members from certain states did not have the right to sue for damages for antitrust violations.
A more thorough discussion of Sullivan follows.