Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Antitrust & Trade Regulation
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The en banc court filed an opinion affirming the district court’s order certifying three subclasses of direct tuna purchasers (“DPP”) who alleged that the suppliers violated federal and state antitrust laws. The circuit court agreed with the district court and held that the purchasers’ statistical regression model was capable of showing that a price-fixing conspiracy caused class-wide antitrust impact.Plaintiffs must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the facts necessary to carry the burden of establishing that the prerequisites of Rule 23 are satisfied. The court held that in making the determinations necessary to find that the prerequisites of Rule 23(b)(3) are satisfied, the district court may weigh conflicting expert testimony and resolve expert disputes. Further, the court found when individualized questions relate to the injury status of class members, Rule 23(b)(3) requires that the court determine whether individualized inquiries about such matters would predominate. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class. Further, it held that the court did not err in determining that the evidence presented by the DPPs proved: (1) antitrust impact was capable of being established class-wide through common proof, and (2) that this common question predominated over individual questions. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the evidence presented by the “CFP” class of indirect purchasers of bulk-sized tuna products and the “EPP” class of individual end purchasers was capable of proving the element of antitrust impact. View "OLEAN WHOLESALE GROCERY CO-OP V. BUMBLE BEE FOODS LLC" on Justia Law

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The SmileDirect parties developed an online service model for patients to access certain orthodontic services; they allege the defendants (members and employees of the California Dental Board) conspired to harass them with unfounded investigations and an intimidation campaign, to drive them out of the market. The district court dismissed the suit. The Ninth Circuit reversed with respect to certain Sherman Act antitrust claims. The SmileDirect parties sufficiently pled Article III standing; they alleged an injury in fact that was fairly traceable to defendants’ challenged conduct and was judicially redressable. They sufficiently alleged anticompetitive concerted action, or an agreement to restrain trade. The court rejected an argument that regulatory board members and employees cannot form an anticompetitive conspiracy when acting within their regulatory authority.The court affirmed the dismissal of a claim under the Dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from discriminating against interstate commerce, and of a "disparate treatment" Equal Protection Clause claim. To plead a class-of-one equal protection claim, plaintiffs must allege that they have been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment. A class-of-one plaintiff must be similarly situated to the proposed comparator in all material respects. Rather than claiming that they stood on the same footing as others, the SmileDirect parties argued their uniqueness. View "Sulitzer v. Tippins" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action alleging an antitrust conspiracy under Section 1 of the Sherman Act by three of the largest manufacturers of dynamic random access memory (DRAM). Plaintiffs allege that defendants conspired to coordinate their actions when they contemporaneously reduced their DRAM production in 2016, basing their theory on defendants' parallel business conduct and various "plus factor" allegations that they claim further suggest a preceding agreement. The panel concluded that plaintiffs' allegations do not amount to the "something more" required by the panel's precedent to make their claims plausible. In this case, while both parties' explanations for defendants' actions are conceivable, plaintiffs failed to allege additional facts that push their theory over "the line between possibility and plausibility." View "Indirect Purchaser Plaintiffs v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd." on Justia Law

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The district court dismissed a suit alleging that a price plan adopted by Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (SRP) unlawfully discriminated against customers with solar-energy systems and was designed to stifle competition in the electricity market.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, applying Arizona’s notice-of-claim statute, which provides that persons who have claims against a public entity, such as SRP, must file with the entity a claim containing a specific amount for which the claim can be settled.The district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ equal protection claim as barred by Arizona’s two-year statute of limitations. The claim did not accrue when SRP approved the price plan, but rather when plaintiffs received a bill under the new rate structure. The plaintiffs alleged a series of violations, each of which gave rise to a new claim and began a new limitations period.Monopolization and attempted monopolization claims under the Sherman Act were not barred by the filed-rate doctrine, which bars individuals from asserting civil antitrust challenges to an entity’s agency-approved rates. SRP was not entitled to state-action immunity because Arizona had not articulated a policy to displace competition.The Local Government Antitrust Act shielded SRP from federal antitrust damages because SRP is a special functioning governmental unit but the Act does not bar declaratory or injunctive relief. The district court erred in concluding that plaintiffs failed to adequately allege antitrust injury based on the court’s finding that the price plan actually encouraged competition in alternative energy investment. View "Ellis v. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District" on Justia Law

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Orion sued, alleging that Sunny violated federal antitrust law and California laws by conspiring with its horizontal competitor Synta to fix prices and allocate the telescope market. A jury awarded Orion $16.8 million.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part. The district court properly admitted the expert report and testimony of Orion’s telescope manufacturing and damages experts and properly excluded Sunny's rebuttal expert testimony. On the Sherman Act section 1 claims, sufficient evidence established that Sunny conspired with Synta to ensure that Sunny acquired another telescope manufacturer, to protect their market share; conspired with a competitor to fix prices or credit terms; and agreed with Synta either not to compete or to divide customers. The evidence also supported the Sherman Act section 2 verdict on attempted monopolization and conspiracy to monopolize; the verdict did not depend on an improper joint monopoly theory. Orion sufficiently defined the relevant market; sufficient evidence supported findings that Sunny expressed a specific intent to gain monopoly power and was dangerously close to attaining monopoly power.Affirming as to Orion’s Clayton Act section 7 claim, the court upheld the finding of a reasonable likelihood that Sunny’s acquisition of a competitor would substantially reduce competition or create a monopoly. The jury’s finding as to damages was neither grossly excessive unsupported, nor the result of guesswork. The district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing injunctive relief under Clayton Act section 16. Vacating in part, the court held that the district court abused its discretion by excluding a declaration in support of Sunny’s motion to amend the judgment with regard to the valuation of a settlement set-off. View "Optronic Technologies, Inc. v. Ningbo Sunny Electronic Co. Ltd." on Justia Law

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The City of Oakland sued the NFL and its member teams, alleging that the defendants created artificial scarcity in their product (NFL teams), and used that scarcity to demand supra-competitive prices from host cities. The city alleged that when it could not pay those prices, the defendants punished it by allowing the Raiders to move to Las Vegas.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. While the city had Article III standing because it plausibly alleged that, but for the defendants’ conduct, it would have retained the Raiders, the defendants’ conduct did not amount to an unreasonable restraint of trade under section 1 of the Sherman Act. The city failed sufficiently to allege a group boycott, which occurs when multiple producers refuse to sell goods or services to a particular customer, alleging only that a single producer, the Raiders, refused to deal with it. The city also failed sufficiently to allege statutory standing on a theory that the defendants’ conduct constituted an unlawful horizontal price-fixing scheme. A finding of antitrust standing requires balancing the nature of the plaintiff’s alleged injury, the directness of the injury, the speculative measure of the harm, the risk of duplicative recovery, and the complexity in apportioning damages; here, the city was priced out of the market and was a nonpurchaser. Any damages were highly speculative and would be exceedingly difficult to calculate. View "City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders" on Justia Law

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A 2019 Arizona statute prohibits auto dealer management system (DMS) providers from “tak[ing] any action by contract, technical means or otherwise to prohibit or limit a dealer’s ability to protect, store, copy, share or use” data the dealer has stored in its DMS. DMS providers may not impose charges “beyond any direct costs incurred” for database access. DMS providers may not prohibit the third parties contracted by the dealers “from integrating into the dealer’s data system,” nor may they otherwise “plac[e] an unreasonable restriction on integration.” DMS providers must “[a]dopt and make available a standardized framework for the exchange, integration, and sharing of data” with authorized integrators.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against the statute’s enforcement. There is no conflict preemption; the statute and the federal Copyright Act are not irreconcilable. The statute does not conflict with 17 U.S.C. 106(1), which grants the owner of a copyrighted work the exclusive right “to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.” The plaintiffs forfeited their claim that the statute impaired their contracts with third-party vendors and did not show that the statute impaired their ability to discharge their contractual duty to keep dealer data confidential. The statute was reasonably drawn to serve important public purposes of promoting consumer data privacy and competition and amounted to neither a per se physical taking nor a regulatory taking. View "CDK Global LLC v. Brnovich" on Justia Law

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The district court certified a nationwide indirect purchaser class in antitrust multidistrict litigation seeking injunctive and monetary relief under sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act and California law against Qualcomm. The suit alleged that Qualcomm maintained a monopoly in electronic chips by engaging in a “no-license-no-chips” policy and sold chips only at above-FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) royalty rates; refusing to license its standard-essential patents to rival chip suppliers; and entering into exclusive dealing arrangements with Apple. The plaintiffs, consumers who bought cellphones, alleged that Qualcomm’s monopoly harmed consumers because the amount attributable to an allegedly excessive royalty was passed through the distribution chain to consumers.The Ninth Circuit vacated. The court noted its 2020 holding, FTC v. Qualcomm, that Qualcomm’s modem chip licensing practices did not violate the Sherman Act and that its exclusive dealing agreements with Apple did not substantially foreclose competition. The class was erroneously certified under a faulty choice of law analysis because differences in relevant state laws swamped predominance. California’s choice of law rules precluded the district court’s certification of the nationwide Rule 23(b)(3) class because other states’ laws, beyond California’s Cartwright Act, should apply. As a result, common issues of law did not predominate in the class as certified. View "Stromberg v. Qualcomm, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2010, AMN Healthcare contracted with Aya Healthcare to provide travel nursing services to healthcare facilities. The contract prohibited Aya from soliciting AMN’s employees. In 2015, Aya began actively soliciting AMN’s travel nurse recruiters. AMN temporarily terminated Aya’s access to AMN’s platform. The parties ended their relationship. Aya filed suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, 2, including a “per se” claim and a quick-look/rule-of-reason claim and claims for attempted monopolization and monopolization, and state law tortious interference and other claims. Aya claimed that it suffered exclusionary damages as a result of AMN’s non-solicitation covenant and retaliatory damages as a result of AMN’s termination of the relationship.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of AMN. The non-solicitation agreement is an ancillary, rather than a naked restraint, because it is reasonably necessary to the parties’ procompetitive collaboration; it is not per se unlawful but is subject to the rule-of-reason standard. Aya failed to satisfy its initial burden under that standard because it did not establish a triable issue of fact with respect to whether AMN’s nonsolicitation agreement has a substantial anticompetitive effect that harms consumers in the relevant market. Aya’s claim for retaliatory damages failed because it did not present any evidence of a cartel or a concerted action in the termination of the agreement. View "Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. v. AMN Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, of Axon's action alleging that the FTC's administrative enforcement process violated the company's constitutional rights. In this case, the FTC investigated and filed an administrative complaint challenging Axon's acquisition of a competitor, demanding that Axon spin-off its newly acquired company and provide it with Axon's own intellectual property. The district court dismissed the complaint after determining that the FTC's statutory scheme requires Axon to raise its constitutional challenge first in the administrative proceeding.The panel held that the Supreme Court's Thunder Basin trilogy of cases mandates dismissal. The panel explained that the structure of the Federal Trade Commission Act suggests that Congress impliedly barred jurisdiction in district court and required parties to move forward first in the agency proceeding. Because the FTC statutory scheme ultimately allows Axon to present its constitutional challenges to a federal court of appeals after the administrative proceeding, the panel concluded that Axon has not suffered any cognizable harm. Therefore, the panel joined every other circuit that has addressed a similar issue in ruling that Congress impliedly stripped the district court of jurisdiction. View "Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law