CCC’s: Evergreen: Supreme Court Dodges Question of Antitrust Summary Judgment Standard, Higher Bar to Reach Jury Splitting Circuits. Will Valspar be Next Up?

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Below is a Guest Post by Richard Wolfram, counsel for Evergreen Partnering Group, Inc.  Evergreen filed suit alleging polystyrene converters and their trade association engaged in a concerted refusal to deal with the company in violation of the Sherman Act. The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts initially dismissed the action.  Evergreen appealed and the First Circuit vacated and remanded. 720 F. 3d 33 (1st Cir. 2013).  The district court then entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. 116 F. Supp. 3d 1.  (D. Mass. 2015). Evergreen again appealed and the First Circuit upheld the dismissal of the action.  Evergreen Partnering Group v. Pactiv Corp, et. al., 832 F. 3d 1 (1stCir. 2017).  After the First Circuit denied without comment Evergreen’s petition for rehearing, Evergreen filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.  Respondents filed an Opposition brief at the request of the Court and Evergreen filed a Reply.  (No. 16-1148.)

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On October 2, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Evergreen’s petition for certiorari in its concerted refusal to deal case from the First Circuit.  Evergreen contended that the court of appeals, in dismissing the case, misinterpreted and misapplied the summary judgment standard in antitrust, and that the standard itself is the source of significant confusion and inconsistent reasoning among the federal circuits and thus calls for clarification by the Court.  Evergreen’s petition was supported by an amicus brief submitted by 12 professors of antitrust law and economics.

The Court, as is customary, gave no explanation for denying Evergreen’s petition.  The Court lost an important and timely opportunity to clarify an issue that has created tremendous confusion and inconsistency among the circuits — the proper tools for applying the summary judgment standard in antitrust.  Although the Court understandably focuses on issues of law and not fact for petitions that it accepts, one has to wonder what set of facts — with the lower court here improperly weighing evidence and making credibility determinations and applying the much-criticized equal inferences rule — would serve as a better vehicle for resolving this question.  This issue is not going away, and anyone who practices antitrust knows that. Click here and here for articles about the decision.

Confirming this comment, and on the same day, a panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals publicly issued a decision affirming summary judgment dismissal of a Sherman Act Section 1 oligopoly conspiracy case despite findings of 31 uniform price increases by defendants over 11 years, well over any increase in costs and despite declining demand and excess capacity.  Valspar Corp. v. Dupont,  (3d Cir., 10/2/17). Arguably pre-empting the role of the trier of fact, just as Evergreen alleged the First Circuit did in its case, the Third Circuit panel required that the plaintiff provide inferences that the alleged conspiracy was “more likely than not” rather than applying the general summary judgment standard, as repeated by the Supreme Court in Kodak, that the plaintiff show simply that a jury could reasonably find in favor of the plaintiff.  The plaintiff’s burden at trial is to prove its case by a preponderance of evidence (51%), whereas its burden on summary judgment is simply to show that a jury could reasonably find in its favor — which the Supreme Court itself has explained is less than the preponderance standard. As Evergreen explained in its petition, and as applies equally in Valspar, to require that the plaintiff show by a preponderance of evidence on summary judgment that a jury would find in its favor effectively pre-empts the role of the jury, infringes on the Seventh Amendment right of the plaintiff, and is illogical, in effect raising the bar by requiring that the plaintiff satisfy the preponderance standard at both the summary judgment phase and at trial.  Inquiring minds may wonder — will Valspar be the vehicle where the Court finally addresses these issues?  For more information on Valspar, see write-up by the American Antitrust Institute, which filed an amicus in support of the plaintiff (here).

Richard Wolfram  rwolfram@rwolframlex.com

Maurice Stucke: Looking at Monopsony in the Mirror 62 Emory L.J. 1509 (2013)

Although still a distant second to monopoly, buyer power and monopsony are hot topics in the competition community. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), International Competition Network (ICN), and American Antitrust Institute (AAI) have studied monopsony and buyer power recently. The U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission pay more attention to buyer power in their 2010 merger guidelines than they did in their earlier guidelines. With growing buyer concentration in commodities such as coffee, tea, and cocoa, and among retailers, buyer power is a human rights issue. (Continue Reading)
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More Biographical Information for Maurice E. Stucke

Antitrust Monitor Blog: Influential Think Tank and Opinion Driver Recommends Harsher Antitrust Fines

The American Antitrust Institute, a Washington D.C. organization, has written a letter to the United States Sentencing Commission recommending that fines for antitrust violations be increased.  The recommendation grows out of work done by Professors John Connor and Bob Lande, who have been studying whether the penalties (including fines, jail time, and civil liability) adequately deter would-be price fixers.  Their study, which looks at a significant amount of data over many years, suggests that price fixing is under-deterred, and that it therefore can be a rational business decision for firms to illegally fix prices, even in the current era of large fines, big jail sentences and private treble damages cases.  They specifically point out that while the Guidelines assume that price fixing raises prices by an average of 10% over what prices would be in a competitive market, there is evidence that this estimate is too low, and should be revised to 20%, if not higher.

http://www.antitrustinstitute.org/~antitrust/sites/default/files/USSCAAILetter.pdf

Maurice E. Stucke Curriculum Vitae

Maurice E. Stucke Curriculum Vitae (pdf)

Leading Antitrust Lawyers and DOJ Alumni Allen P. Grunes and Maurice E. Stucke Join GeyerGorey LLP

GeyerGorey LLP is pleased to announce that two veteran Department of Justice prosecutors, Allen P. Grunes and Maurice E. Stucke, have joined the firm.  Grunes, recently named as a “Washington D.C. Super Lawyer for 2013” in antitrust litigation, government relations, and mergers & acquisitions, joins as a partner.  Stucke, a widely-published professor with numerous honors including a Fulbright fellowship, joins as of counsel.  Stucke will continue to teach at the University of Tennessee College of Law.

“We are delighted that Allen and Maurice have decided to join us,” said Brad Geyer.  “They add considerable fire power to our already impressive antitrust, compliance and white collar roster and give us more capabilities and capacity, particularly on the civil side.”

Robert Zastrow, who was Verizon’s Assistant General Counsel for 15 years before co-founding the firm in October 2012, added, “Allen’s and Maurice’s extensive background and expertise nicely complement our firm’s unique philosophy and enrich our competition and merger practices.  We are thrilled they are joining our innovative effort in delivering legal services.”

GeyerGorey LLP presents a new way to practice law.  It may be the only law firm in the country where prior federal prosecutorial experience is a prerequisite for partnership.  Given its lawyers’ extensive legal expertise, GeyerGorey can handle trials involving the most complex legal and factual issues, and, when advantageous, work with other law firms, economists and specialists, particularly former federal prosecutors and agents, who bolster existing resources, expertise and constantly freshen perspective.  As founding partner Hays Gorey added, “We seek to avoid the traditional hierarchal partner-associate pyramid, hourly billing fee structure, and practice fiefdoms.  We want to attract entrepreneurial lawyers, like Allen and Maurice, who love competition policy and practicing law.  Having worked with them at DOJ, I am excited about the expertise and enthusiasm they bring to our clients.”

Consistent with GeyerGorey’s philosophy, both Grunes and Stucke are alumni of the U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, in Washington, D.C.  At DOJ, they led numerous civil investigations, worked on high-profile trials, and negotiated consent decrees involving significant divestitures across many different industries.  In their last case together at the Division, In re Visa Check/MasterMoney Antitrust Litigation, they successfully sought, as a matter of equity and the first time in the Division’s history, for the government’s share of damages in a private class action settlement.

Grunes and Stucke are regarded as leading authorities on competition policy in the media.  Their scholarship on media and telecommunications policy has been published in the Antitrust Law Journal, the Northwestern University Law Review, the Connecticut Law Review, the Journal of European Competition Law & Practice, and the Federal Communications Law Journal.  They have spoken at numerous conferences on competition policy and the media, including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s workshop, How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?  Both are frequently quoted in the press on mergers and anticompetitive conduct.  In addition, both serve on the advisory boards of the American Antitrust Institute and the Loyola Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies in Chicago.

Allen Grunes joins GeyerGorey from another Washington, D.C. firm, where he was a shareholder.  His recent matters include acting as class counsel in litigation against several hospitals and an association in Arizona that allegedly artificially depressed the rates paid to temporary nurses, opposing the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile for a coalition of companies including DISH Network, and representing Warner Music Group in connection with the merger of Universal and EMI.  He has counseled dozens of companies and associations on antitrust issues and corporate mergers.  He also serves as chair of the antitrust committee of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

Maurice Stucke is a tenured professor at the University of Tennessee and a leading competition law scholar.  With over 30 articles and book chapters, Stucke has been invited by competition authorities from around the world and the OECD to speak about behavioral economics and competition policy.  He currently is one of the United States’ non-governmental advisors to the International Competition Network, the only international body devoted exclusively to competition law enforcement.  His scholarship has been cited by the U.S. federal courts, the OECD, competition agencies and policymakers.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., GeyerGorey specializes in white collar criminal defense, particularly investigations and cases involving allegations of economic crimes, such as violations of the federal antitrust laws (price fixing, bid rigging, territorial and customer allocation agreements), procurement fraud, securities fraud, foreign bribery (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and qui tam (False Claims Act) and whistleblower actions.  The firm also conducts internal investigations of possible criminal conduct and provides advice regarding compliance with U.S. antitrust and other laws.