CCC’s: Ninth Circuit’s Oral Argument on FTAIA Related Appeal

If an FTAIA related case is ever taken by the Supreme Court I believe it will be a private civil price fixing damage case like Best Buy Co., Inc. v. Hannstar Display Corporation. The Antitrust Division’s international cartel prosecutions have all involved import commerce; providing a jurisdictional basis without reaching possible FTAIA related commerce. [And if I could decide a case without reaching FTAIA issues, I sure would.]  The recent Antitrust Division case filing in capacitors follows this pattern. The Information alleged that both import commerce and FTAIA related commerce were subject to the agreement to fix prices.

There was a very interesting oral argument before the Ninth Circuit on December 11, 2015 dealing with a civil price fixing damage case related to the TFT-LCD price fixing cartel: Best Buy Co., Inc. v. Hannstar Display Corporation.  The case raises a number of interesting FTAIA related issues, some of which I’ll discuss below.   But if you are interested in viewing the oral argument, the Ninth Circuit makes video available and the Best Buy Co., Inc. v. Hannstar Display Corporation argument can be viewed here.

A couple of key factual notes about the case:

  • HannStar, which pled guilty in the criminal TFT-LCD, case only sold panels to foreign entities.  It shipped no price fixed panels into the US, nor finished goods because it did not make those.  But, some HannStar price fixed panels were assembled into finished products, including desktop and laptop computers and televisions, that were imported into the US.  Some of Hannstar’s co-conspirators did sell finished products in the US that contained price fixed screens that were purchased by Best Buy.
  • The panel noted that the lack of Hannstar import commerce distinguished this case from the case the United States brought against the cartel, some of whose members imported panels directly into the Unites States so jurisdiction was not based on the FTAIA. United States v. Hsiung,
    758 F.3d 1074 (9th Cir. 2014).
  • Also, Best Buy in the US purchased finished products with the price fixed screens, distinguishing the case from Motorola Mobility where Motorola’s foreign subsidiary purchased the panels. Motorola Mobility v. AU Optronics, 775 F.3d 816, 826-27 (7th Cir. 2015).
  • Best Buy was an opt out plaintiff.  As such, it had to prove that it suffered injury as the result of the defendants’ anticompetitive conduct.  It could not piggyback on the “class” it had opted out of.

The case involved a special jury verdict form that is at the heart of the appellate argument.  The jury found that Best Buy’s injury arose from a conspiracy involving import commerce despite the fact that it was undisputed that Best Buy purchased no LCD screens that were the subject of the cartel agreement.  Best But bought only the finished products (laptops, etc) that contained the price-fixed screens.   Import commerce comes within in the scope of the Sherman Act without application of the FTAIA. But at the same time, the jury found that the conspiracy did not have a “direct, substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect on trade or commerce.” In other words, jurisdiction could not be based on the FTAIA.

Here are the relevant questions in the Special Verdict form:

Question 1: Did Best Buy prove, by a preponderance of the evidence and in accordance with the instructions given to you, that Toshiba knowingly participated in a conspiracy to fix, raise, maintain or stabilize the prices of TFT-LCD panels?  No.

Question 2: Did Best Buy prove, by a preponderance of the evidence in accordance with the instructions given to you, that HannStar knowing participated in a conspiracy to fix, raise, maintain or stability the prices of TFT-LCD panels?   Yes.

Question 3: Did Best Buy prove, by preponderance of the evidence and in accordance with the instructions given to you, that the conspiracy involved TFT-LCD panels and/or finished products (e.g., notebook computers, computer monitors, televisions, camcorders, cell phones and digital cameras containing TFT-LCD panels) imported into the United States?  Yes.

Question 4: Did Best Buy prove, by preponderance of the evidence and in accordance with the instructions given to you, that the conspiracy involving these imported TFT-LCD panels and/or finished products produced substantial intended effects in the United States?  Yes.

Question 5: Did Best Buy prove, by preponderance of the evidence and in accordance with the instructions given to you, that the conspiracy involved conduct that had a direct, substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect on trade or commerce in the United States?  No. 

Question 8: Did Best Buy prove, by preponderance of the evidence and in accordance with the instructions given to you, that it was injured as a result of the conspiracy in which one or both of the defendants knowingly participated?  Yes.

Question 9: For Best Buy’s direct purchases only, what is the amount of damages Best Buy proved, by preponderance of the evidence and in accordance with the Court’s instructions, that it suffered as a result of the conspiracy?  $ 7,471,943

The FTAIA issues in the case are particularly confusing because Question 3 in the Special Verdict form was in the alternative “did the conspiracy involve panels and/or finished productsimported into the United States?” HannStar argued that the jury was wrong in finding that the conspiracy involved import commerce because HannStar never sold panels in the US and Best Buy bought only finished products. “The conduct at issue was the agreement to fix the price of panels—wholly foreign conduct. [The conspiracy was] not to import finished products containing those panels to the US” HannStar attorney Belinda Lee, Latham & Watkins, argued.  Lee noted that HannStar engaged in price-fixing on liquid crystal display panels, not finished goods. HannStar then argued that since the jury did not find an FTAIA basis for jurisdiction [that the conspiracy produced a direct substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect in the United States], there is no jurisdiction. “The jury was asked and they said no; they found no domestic effect,” Lee told the panel. Best Buy, therefore failed to prove that its claims arose from conduct covered by FTAIA.

Because the jury found import commerce, an issue in the case became whether the sale of the finished product (i.e. a laptop with affixed price LCD screen) could as a matter of law constitute import commerce. This invoked the “targeting” theory, i.e. that a cartel could be found to be covered by the Sherman Act even if there was no imports into the US if the cartel “targeted” the US.  Judge Kim Wardlaw said that the jury had found there was substantial intent on the part of the defendants to create price effects in the US market. Was this enough to make the good import commerce (which jury found) or as a matter of law does this evidence only go to the domestic effects test? (and, confusingly, the jury found no domestic effects).

Judge Susan Graber expressed concern that finding import commerce jurisdiction based on a component part price fix could expand Sherman Act jurisdiction over foreign commerce beyond what Congress intended. She gave an example of a $10 foreign-based price fixed gas cap on a $50,000 car that is then imported into the United States. Is that import commerce? What about where the part is little in a big product?  And the harm is quite small? The Court clearly was concerned with drawing the line [but in the instant case, the TFT-LCD screens were a fairly large cost import of the finished product.]

Hannstar attorney Lee argued (correctly I believe) that the issue of whether a component part price fix can provide Sherman Act jurisdiction relates only to whether the FTAIA’s “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable” effect on commerce test is met. And on that question the jury answered “No.” Import commerce is defined as a purchase by a US consumer of the price fixed product.  There is, however, some support for the proposition that in certain circumstances the import commerce exception requires only that the defendants’ anticompetitive conduct “target import goods or services,”  Animal Sci. Prods., Inc. v. China Minmetals Corp., 654 F.3d 462, 470 (3d Cir. 2011); Minn-Chem, Inc. v. Agrium Inc., 683 F.3d 845, 855 (7th Cir. 2012) (en band).  I don’t think, however, the targeting analysis applies to whether components priced fixed in foreign commerce but imported into the US in a finished product constitutes import commerce.  Such a reading would essentially render moot the FTAIA jurisdictional basis of “direct, substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect” on US commerce.

There were a couple of other interesting features of the case:

  • Opt Out: There can be advantages to being an opt out plaintiff, but there may also be some downsides. Plaintiffs in class action just have to prove some import commerce, but since Best Buy was an opt out, it had to demonstrate their own purchases trace back to import commerce or the FTAIA domestic effect.
  • Which Best Buy?  Again as an opt out Best Buy had to trace its purchases to one of the conspirator companies and because Best Buy also has foreign subsidiaries it had to establish that the US company made the purchases (To avoid a Motorola Mobility situation). It seemed Best Buy overcame this hurdle, but it is something plaintiffs need to watch out for. B failed to trace the purchases from BB entities in US to HannStar. If foreign entities you have Motorola.

A final note: The jury in Best Buy’s trial ordered HannStar to pay almost $7.5 million in damages. The Court then trebled the award to more than $22 million. But because Best Buy had settled with so many of HannStar’s co-conspirators, the court reduced the award to zero. Ouch!

Best Buy was represented by Katherine Wiik of Robins Kaplan LLP.

Thanks for reading.

CCC’s: Some After Thoughts From An FTAIA Conference

I went to a very interesting conference on the FTAIA a few weeks ago.  I’ve been a bit busy so haven’t had a chance to post.  But, FTAIA issues aren’t going to be settled anytime soon, so here goes.

On September 27 I was fortunate to be able to attend the conference Extraterritoriality of Antitrust Law in the US and Abroad: A Hot Issue. The conference was sponsored by George Washington Law School and Concurrences.  Application of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvement Act (FTAIA) is indeed a hot issue. And with the capacitors investigation being the next big thing in international cartel enforcement, I boldly predict the FTAIA is going to continue to be a hot issue.

There was a number of interesting panels and insightful discussions at the conference.  Judge Dianne P. Wood, Chief Judge of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was a terrific choice as the keynote speaker. Before the joining the Court of Appeals, Judge Wood was instrumental in many difference roles in promoting competition law internationally and fostering cooperation among the world’s competition law community. I was in the Antitrust Division when Judge Wood was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General overseeing all international matters.  Judge Wood traced the history of international cartel enforcement and cooperation from when the US had a monopoly, then the US and EU had a duopoly, and now there is at least an oligopoly of cartel enforcement with more nations joining as time passes.

Judge Wood also discussed the fact that the FTAIA is not a subject-matter jurisdiction limitation on the power of the federal courts but a component of the merits of a Sherman Act claim involving nonimport trade or commerce with foreign nations.  The first significant difference is that if application of the FTAIA were a jurisdictional issue it could be raised at any time. If brought to the court’s attention that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear a case, the case must be dismissed.  And the court is the fact-finder.  But as a substantive element of a Sherman Act offense, whether complaint satisfies the FTAIA is decided on a Motion to Dismiss with all inferences drawn in favor of the plaintiff.

Judge Wood also noted that the Seventh and Ninth Circuit have different standards for measuring whether anticompetitive conduct abroad has a direct, substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect on commerce in the United States.  The Ninth Circuit has interpreted the FTAIA requirement of “direct” to mean that the effect on U.S. commerce follow as an “immediate consequence” of the defendant’s conduct. U.S. v. Hui Hsuing, 778 F. 3d 738, 758 (9th Cir. 2014). The Seventh and Second Circuits, on the other hand, have construed the term “direct” in the FTAIA to denote a “reasonably proximate causal nexus.” Motorola Mobility LLC v. AU Optronics Corp., 775 F.3d 816, 819 (7th Cir. Nov. 26, 2014), as amended (Jan. 12, 2015); Lotes Co. v. Hon Hai Precision Indus., 753 F.3d 395, 410 (2d Cir. 2014).  In most cases there may not be a difference in the outcome depending upon what standard is used.  In fact, the Supreme Court declined to take cert. in the Motorola and AU Optronics cases (see prior post here).  But Judge Wood noted that a Supreme Court decision on FTAIA issue would be welcome.  


Comity was a major theme of the conference.  Judge Wood noted that comity is fundamentally an Executive Branch consideration.  If a case is properly before a court, (i.e. the court has jurisdiction), it is generally not the court’s job to dismiss the case on comity grounds.

There was another observation on comity that I found insightful.  Daniel Bitton was a panelist and he offered this caution regarding how the US treats foreign nationals.  Imagine, he said, if other countries had sought to extradite Apple executives for the e-book conspiracy?  The point being the US is not the only jurisdiction with anti-cartel laws, and the US needs to be mindful that how we foreign executives are treated under US law may become the way that US executives are treated by foreign jurisdictions.

Mr. Bitton’s example struck home to me because while the Antitrust Division prosecuted the e-books case civilly, the Division always declared Apple’s conduct to be hard-core price-fixing organized at the highest levels of the company.  The Division’s opening brief reads:

 “Apple conspired with five of the six largest U.S. trade book publishers to raise the prices at which consumers purchase electronic books (“e-books”) and eliminate retail price competition…..Stripped of the glitz surrounding e-books and Apple, this is an unremarkable and obvious price-fixing case appropriate for per se condemnation.”

Based on the DOJ’s charging language, the Apple case could have been brought as a criminal case (see a prior post here).

The executive branch does need to be (and generally is) mindful of “Cartel Karma.”  In an earlier post (here), I quoted Forbes columnist Tim Worstall writing about the US reach in the FCPA arena:

It’s most certainly not good economics that one court jurisdiction gets to fine companies from all over the world on fairly tenuous grounds. Who would really like it if Russia’s legal system extended all the way around the world? Or North Korea’s? And I’m pretty sure that the non-reciprocity isn’t good public policy either. Eventually it’s going to start getting up peoples’ noses and they’ll be looking for ways to punish American companies in their own jurisdictions under their own laws. And there won’t be all that much that the U.S. can honestly do to complain about, given their previous actions.

The degree of comity (or respect) competition agencies show (or don’t show) each other will be increasingly important.  For example, I think it was a good thing that the court rejected the Antitrust Division’s request for ten-year prison sentences for certain AU Optronics individuals who were convicted in the TFT-LCD cartel.  I think even seeking the maximum jail sentence request may chill foreign cooperation (including the willingness to extradite to the US).

Another good tip from one of the panelists.  (Ian Simmons I believe, but pardon me if I’ve got this, or anything else wrong in this post).  Mr. Simmons said anytime he is dealing with a confusing, ambiguous statute [and the FTAIA makes anyone’s top ten list], he likes to refresh himself by re-reading the statute.  So here it is (and with the capacitors investigation heating up, many of us will be re-reading the statute often):

§ 6a. Conduct involving trade or commerce with foreign nations

This Act [15 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq.] shall not apply to conduct involving trade or commerce (other than import trade or import commerce) with foreign nations unless—

(1) such conduct has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect—

(A) on trade or commerce which is not trade or commerce with foreign nations, or on import trade or import commerce with foreign nations; or

(B) on export trade or export commerce with foreign nations, of a person engaged in such trade or commerce in the United States; and

(2) such effect gives rise to a claim under the provisions of this Act, other than this section.

Thanks for reading.

PS.  For those who might be interested,  New York University School of Law and Concurrences Review will host the 2nd Edition of the Conference “Antitrust in Emerging and Developing Economies” at NYU School of Law in New York City on Friday, October 23, 2015. The conference will feature the law, practice and policy in several of the most antitrust-prominent developing nations, including China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Africa.  More information here.

Robert E. Connolly’s Cartel Capers: Second Circuit on FTAIA to Extraterritorial Anticompetitive Conduct

The Second Circuit Adds Its Voice to the Debate Over the Application of the FTAIA to Extraterritorial Anticompetitive Conduct

One of the hottest topics in cartel enforcement today is the question of how the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act of 1982 (“FTAIA”) limits the extraterritorial reach of the Sherman Act. The FTAIA applies to both governmental and private actions. On June 4, 2014 the Second Circuit offered its views on the subject in Lotes Co., v. Hon Hai Precision Industry, No. 13-2280, slip op. (2d Cir. June 4, 2014).

The Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act of 1982 (“FTAIA”), 15 U.S.C. Section 6a, limits the extraterritorial reach of the Sherman Act. The Supreme Court has explained that the FTAIA initially lays down a general rule placing all (nonimport) activity involving foreign commerce outside the Sherman Act’s reach. The FTAIA then brings such conduct back within the Sherman Act’s reach provided that the conduct both (1) sufficiently affects American commerce, i.e., has a “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect” on American domestic, import, or (certain) export commerce, and (2) has an effect of a kind that antitrust law considers harmful,i.e., the “effect” must “giv[e] rise to a [Sherman Act] claim.” F. HoffmannLa Roche Ltd. v. Empagran S.A., 542 U.S. 155, 162 (2004) (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 6a(1), (2)).  

In Lotes, a manufacturer of UBS connectors (Lotes), alleged monopolization by the defendants of the market for UBS 3.0 connectors. Lotes alleged that the defendants breached their obligation to provide RAND‐Zero licenses to adopters of the USB 3.0 standard, which included Lotes. This, Lotes claimed, gave the defendants unlawful monopoly power over the manufacture of USB 3.0 connectors in China. While the anticompetitive conduct took place in China, Lotes’s theory was that monopoly driven price increases in USB 3.0 connectors would “inevitably” be passed on to consumers in the United States. Lotes alleged, therefore, that the monopolization conduct in China would have a “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on U.S. commerce.”

The Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of the complaint because Lotes did not satisfy the second requirement under the FTAIA that “such effect gives rise to a claim under the provisions of this Act.” The effect in the United States from the defendants’ alleged conduct was claimed to be higher consumer prices. But, Lotes’s injury, as a competitor of the defendants, was that it was allegedly wrongly denied a license to manufacture the connectors.  Higher U.S. consumer prices did not give rise to Lotes’s antitrust injury. In fact, Lotes’s injury predated the higher prices. Lotes’s complaint therefore was dismissed because any domestic effect caused by the defendants’ foreign anticompetitive conduct did not “give[] rise to” Lotes’s claims. 15 U.S.C. § 6a(2). Lotes at 47.

There are several other important aspects to the Lotes decision:

1) The Second Circuit joined the Third and Seventh Circuit in holding that the requirements of the FTAIA were not jurisdictional, but were substantive elements of a Sherman Act offense. The importance of this holding is obvious. Motions to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction place the burden on the plaintiff to establish jurisdiction.  The plaintiff must meet its burden before discovery takes place.  Instead, because satisfying FTAIA requirements is now considered an element of the Sherman Act violation, defendants must file a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and all reasonable inferences will be drawn in favor of the plaintiff.

2) The Second Circuit did not reach the issue of whether the defendants’ conduct met the FTAIA “direct, substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect” requirement, but did rule that the district court used the wrong test to answer this question.The district court construed the FTAIA’s “direct effect” element to require the effect to follow “as an immediate consequence of the defendant’s activity.”   This is the rule in the Ninth Circuit. The Second Circuit, however, rejected this test. The Court adopted an alternative approach advocated by the Department of Justice and the FTC in amicus briefs. Under this more relaxed approach“the term ‘direct’ means only ‘a reasonably proximate causal nexus.’” Lotes at 35-36. The Seventh Circuit has also adopted the “reasonably proximate causal nexus” test. See Minn-Chen v. Agrium, Inc., 683 F.3d 845 (7th Cir. 2012).

While the Second Circuit did not reach the question of whether Lotes’s allegations of monopoly conduct in China met the “reasonably proximate causal nexus” the Court did note that, “This kind of complex manufacturing process is increasingly common in our modern global economy, and antitrust law has long recognized that anticompetitive injuries can be transmitted through multi‐layered supply chains.” Lotes at 43. The Court also observed that the “Supreme Court has held that claims by indirect purchasers are ‘consistent with the broad purposes of the federal antitrust laws: deterring anticompetitive conduct and ensuring the compensation of victims of that conduct.’” Lotes at 43, citing California v. ARC Am. Corp., 490 U.S. 93, 102 (1989).

3) It may be significant that the Second Circuit adopted the approach advocated by the DOJ and FTC that the “the term ‘direct’ means only ‘a reasonably proximate causal nexus’” and noted that this test may still be met even where the fixed-price product is manufactured overseas and becomes a component of a finished product that is later imported into the United States. By contrast, the Seventh Circuit recently found in Motorola Mobility v. AU Optronics, Case No. 14-8003, slip op. (7th Cir. Mar. 27, 2014) that the FTAIA’s requirements were not met where prices were fixed on LCD screens that were sold to Motorola’s overseas subsidiaries and then incorporated overseas into cell phones that were then imported into the United States. TheMotorola Court held that the fact that the purchasers of the price-fixed products were located overseas meant that the effect was not “direct.” The court, per Judge Posner, stated:

The effect on component price fixing on the price of the product of which it is a component is indirect, compared to the situation in Minn-Chem where “foreign sellers allegedly created a cartel, took steps outside the United States to drive the price up of a product that is wanted in the United States, and then (after succeeding in doing so) sold that product to U.S. customers.”

Continued at Robert E. Connolly’s Cartel Capers Blog