Antitrust M&A Snapshot | Q4 2023

Topics covered in this edition:

  • New Merger Guidelines Released
  • FTC Focused on Pharmaceutical Companies
  • FTC Targets “Moat-Building” Mergers
  • Fifth Circuit Fuels FTC’s Vertical Mergers Agenda
  • FTC Losing Streak Reverses During the Fourth Quarter
  • Ex post Review in the Merger Control Sphere Occurring More and More Frequently

Access the full issue.




The Fix Is In – Key Learnings From Recent Vertical Merger Challenges

Vertical mergers are inherently more difficult for the government to litigate than horizonal mergers. After not litigating a vertical merger case since the 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission and the US Department of Justice have recently tried several matters.

In this Westlaw Today article, Jon Dubrow, Stephen Wu, Matt Evola and Bailey Sanders discuss key insights from these cases and provide useful guidance for companies contemplating such transactions.

Read more here.




Year in Review: Criminal Enforcement by the DOJ Antitrust Division in 2023

When it comes to antitrust criminal enforcement, 2023 will be remembered as the year when the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Antitrust Division redefined and tested the outer boundaries of its authority. This report looks back at the key events from the DOJ’s year in criminal antitrust enforcement.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s inside:

  • Despite four straight losses and a voluntary dismissal in labor market cases, the DOJ remains undeterred in bringing additional criminal wage-fixing and no-poach suits.
  • DOJ’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force secured several guilty pleas and stiff penalties in 2023 and will most likely continue pursuing aggressive investigative and litigation strategies moving forward.
  • The nearly decade-long investigation of the generic drug industry appears to be ending after the DOJ recently resolved and dismissed the remaining cases.
  • Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco highlighted cybersecurity, tech and national security as areas of heightened risk and thus heightened scrutiny, so corporations in these markets should take heed of the DOJ’s emphasis on corporate compliance in 2024.

Read full report.




Court Finds Red Cross Has Antitrust Immunity, Rejecting Broad Interpretation of the Sherman Act

WHAT HAPPENED

Recently, in a rarely considered question, the US District Court of Massachusetts held that the American Red Cross (ARC), a federally chartered corporation, is not subject to liability under the Sherman Antitrust Act (Sherman Act) because it is not an antitrust “person.” The court narrowly construed the Sherman Act to exclude a quasi-public entity like ARC, resulting in a broad interpretation of immunity for quasi-public entities under the antitrust laws.

ARC is the largest supplier of blood platelets in the United States and, until recently, sold “untreated” platelets to hospitals which then employed various services to mitigate the risk of platelets becoming infected. Verax Biomedical Inc. (Verax) manufactures one such mitigation service. After ARC announced its plan to begin using Cerus Corporation’s INTERCEPT Blood System on its platelet supply prior to sale – a system that is incompatible with Verax’s service – Verax sued ARC for allegedly leveraging its power in the market for platelets to monopolize the market for mitigation services.

The court found that, although Congress had clearly waived ARC’s sovereign immunity, it did not constitute a “person” under the Sherman Act in form or function because its public attributes outweighed its private ones.

BACKGROUND

  • ARC is a federally chartered nonprofit corporation responsible for “provid[ing] volunteer aid in time of war to the sick and wounded of the Armed Forces.” 36 U.S.C. § 300102(1). It is also the largest supplier of blood platelets in the United States.
  • Verax produces and sells US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared tests for detecting bacterial growth in platelets.
  • In the past, ARC sold both “untreated” and “treated” platelets to hospitals. Untreated platelets require further treatment to ensure bacterial growth is controlled. Hospitals could choose which mitigation services to use, including Verax’s.
  • In 2020, ARC announced its intention to stop selling untreated platelets and to begin treating all platelets with Cerus Corporation’s INTERCEPT Blood System prior to sale. Verax’s service cannot be used on platelets that have been treated with the INTERCEPT system, as the FDA has not endorsed the pairing of the two technologies.
  • Verax filed suit against ARC, bringing three counts under the Sherman Act: tying, exclusive dealing and attempted monopolization.
  • ARC moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing, in part, that ARC cannot be sued under the Sherman Act. Shortly after, the federal government filed a statement of interest arguing that ARC can be sued under the Sherman Act.
  • The court concluded that, although it was a close question, ARC was not a “person” under the Sherman Act in either form or function and therefore dismissed the antitrust claims.

HOW THE DECISION WAS REACHED

  • To determine whether the Sherman Act extends to ARC, the court applied the two-step analysis laid down by the US Supreme Court in FDIC v. Meyer and asked (1) whether there was a waiver of sovereign immunity for actions against ARC and (2) whether the substantive prohibitions of the Sherman Act apply to ARC.
  • The [...]

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FTC and DOJ: Preserve Your Chats!

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) are updating their standard preservation notices and instructions for responding to all manner of discovery (e.g., second requests, voluntary access letters, compulsory process, etc.). The update will alert parties to the steps that must be taken to preserve communication from popular business collaboration tools and “ephemeral messaging platforms” like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Signal.
  • These platforms are typically set to delete communication data automatically and may lack appropriate capabilities for preserving and extracting data even when a preservation notice is issued. While these tools have become central features in the modern business landscape, the Agencies’ announcement is designed to clearly set out the expectation that companies and individuals will adhere to preservation requirements. Parties could be subject to criminal obstruction of justice charges if they fail to comply.
  • Highlighting the very serious concern these tools raise in the DOJ’s view, Manish Kumar, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, asserted that ephemeral messaging platforms are “designed to hide evidence.”

WHAT HAPPENED

  • On January 26, 2024, the DOJ and FTC (the Agencies) announced an update to their preservation notices and instructions for responding to all manner of discovery to “address the increased use of collaboration tools and ephemeral messaging platforms in the modern workplace” and “reinforce longstanding obligations requiring companies to preserve materials during the pendency of government investigations and litigation.”
  • The Agencies recognize that ephemeral chat messaging is becoming an increasingly important feature of the modern business landscape, and they have sought to collect ephemeral messaging data in the past. However, because these platforms are typically set to delete messages automatically and may lack clear solutions for preserving data, the Agencies have run into dead ends trying to collect such data in prior cases. Indeed, Manish Kumar, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Antitrust Division stated that “these updates to our legal process will ensure that neither opposing counsel nor their clients can feign ignorance when their clients or companies choose to conduct business through ephemeral messages.”
  • This new preservation language will be included in all DOJ and FTC preservation letters, second request specifications, voluntary access letters, compulsory legal process and grand jury subpoenas going forward.
  • While the new language changes are a continuation of the Agencies’ existing preservation policies, they will highlight parties’ obligations with respect to ephemeral messaging data specifically, potentially making it easier for the Agencies to seek sanctions and other recourse against companies who fail to preserve such data.
  • Indeed, the Agencies’ announcement cites a prior case where civil spoliation sanctions resulted from a target’s failure to properly preserve ephemeral messaging data. Likewise, the FTC has also signaled its willingness to refer cases to the DOJ Antitrust Division’s Criminal Liaison Unit for criminal obstruction charges in certain cases.

WHAT THIS MEANS

  • The Agencies have recognized in recent cases that relevant business communications that used to happen over email are [...]

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