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Gregory (Greg) E. Heltzer focuses his practice on defending mergers and acquisitions before the US Federal Trade Commission, US Department of Justice, state antitrust authorities and foreign competition authorities. Greg has extensive experience in evaluating whether potential transactions will be cleared by antitrust enforcers and developing a viable path for clearance. In addition, he handles complex antitrust litigation, government investigations and antitrust counseling. Read Greg Heltzer's full bio.

The two current commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved another final order and consent agreement with a trade association, this time with the National Association of Animal Breeders, Inc. (NAAB).

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • The new technology, called Genomic Predicted Transmitting Ability (GPTA) was developed by mid-2008.
  • In late 2008, NAAB implemented rules limiting access to the GPTA technology. Specifically, (1) only a NAAB member could obtain a dairy bull’s GPTA; and (2) the NAAB member obtaining a GPTA must have some ownership interest in the dairy bull.

Continue Reading THE LATEST: FTC Settles with Breeder Trade Association over Association Rules That Limited Price Competition for Dairy Bull Semen

The two current commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved a final order and consent agreement with the American Guild of Organists (AGO) after a public comment period of two months. The FTC alleged that the AGO violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by agreeing to restrain competition among its organist and choral conductor members. Under the terms of the settlement, the AGO agreed to make certain changes to its rules and policies.

WHAT HAPPENED

  • The AGO represents approximately 15,000 member organists and choral directors in 300 chapters in the United States and abroad.
  • The FTC initiated an inquiry into the AGO’s practices in late 2015 after receiving complaints from consumers and organists regarding guild rules.
  • Specifically, the AGO’s rules required a customer seeking to hire a musician who was not dedicated as the “incumbent musician” in a particular area to pay both the “incumbent musician” in the area as well as the hired musician. The AGO’s Code of Ethics stated that members should “protect themselves” through contracts that secured fees even when not performing.
  • Also, the AGO published compensation schedules and formulas, instructing its membership to use the formulas to determine pricing in their region.
  • Finally, the AGO’s rules prohibited a member from soliciting employment from an organization already employing an “incumbent musician.”
  • The FTC’s complaint alleged that these actions restrained competition by encouraging a fixed pricing schedule between and among the AGO’s membership, and by preventing members from freely seeking or accepting employment. It also alleged that the AGO’s rules and guidelines likely raised prices for consumers seeking to employ organists for special occasions, as well as the organizations that employed organists.
  • The settlement requires the AGO to change its rules and Code of Ethics, and mandates that each chapter of the AGO certify compliance in order to remain in the organization. In particular, the AGO no longer can publicize or endorse any standardized or suggested prices or interfere with any member’s ability to seek work as an organist or choral conductor.

Continue Reading THE LATEST: American Guild of Organists Reaches Settlement Agreement with the FTC over Challenged Professional Association Rules

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is composed of five Commissioners each with terms of seven years. The Commissioners are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. At any given time, no more than three Commissioners may be members of the same political party. Currently, Acting Chairman Ohlhausen (R) and Commissioner McSweeny (D) are the only FTC Commissioners. President Trump, therefore, can nominate two republican Commissioners and a democrat or independent commissioner. On May 9, United States Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) formally recommended to President Donald Trump that Rohit Chopra fill the empty Democratic FTC Commissioner position. It is not clear how President Trump will proceed following the recommendation. Prior presidents have typically relied on recommendations from opposition leaders when deciding on a nominee for a minority commissioner.

WHO IS ROHIT CHOPRA?

  • Chopra is a Harvard University (BA) and Wharton School (MBA) graduate who has focused his career on consumer protection; specifically, advocacy for student loan forgiveness and better student loan servicing, and criticism of for-profit universities.
  • Chopra was one of the initial employees of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), founded in July 2010 and proposed in 2007 by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in response to the Great Recession. There, Chopra served as Assistant Director and Student Loan Ombudsman, where he worked to improve student loan servicing and sued ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges Inc. for consumer fraud.
  • In 2015, Chopra became a Senior Fellow at progressive think tank the Center for American Progress.
  • He then joined the Obama Administration as Special Advisor to the Secretary of Education, after having been critical of the Obama Administration’s work on student loan issues while at the CFPB. In particular, he encouraged the Secretary of Education to combat data showing that student loan debt doubled under the Obama Administration and the amount of student loans in default continued to increase.
  • Currently, Chopra serves as a Senior Fellow of the Consumer Federation of America, a non-profit consumer protection organization founded in 1968.

WHAT THIS MEANS?

  • If appointed, Chopra would be a non-lawyer FTC Commissioner without significant experience in antitrust issues, having worked solely in the consumer protection arena.
  • Chopra would replace former FTC Chairman Edith Ramirez, another progressive, who resigned her position effective February 10, 2017.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • Rolls-Royce and SENER have a 47 percent/53 percent joint-venture in Industrial de Turbo Propulsores (ITP)–an aircraft engine components manufacturer.
  • Rolls-Royce, together with ITP, MTU and Safran, are members of a military engine consortium–Europrop International (EPI)–that supplies the engine to the Airbus’ A400M, the primary competitor to the Lockheed Martin C-130J.
  • The European Commission (EC) had concerns that Rolls-Royce’s full ownership of ITP would increase its influence in EPI such that Rolls-Royce could undercut the competitiveness of the EPI engine, and consequently subvert Airbus’ competitiveness vis-à-vis Lockheed Martin.
  • The EC and Rolls-Royce agreed to a behavioral remedy focused on EPI’s governance rules that would eliminate the potential conflict of interest and maintain EPI’s competitiveness. While the EC press release does not provide details, the agreement likely allows MTU and Safran to control the consortium’s decision making.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • Antitrust enforcers continue to investigate competitive impacts from vertical transactions.
  • While antitrust enforcers have a strong preference for structural remedies, when addressing vertical competition issues, there is greater potential that enforcers will accept a behavioral fix.
  • Antitrust enforcers continue to focus on antitrust impacts in narrow markets. Here, the remedy is designed to maintain competition between the Airbus A400M and Lockheed Martin’s C-130J – military turboprop transport aircraft.

Companies are increasingly facing parallel proceedings involving government investigations and follow-on private litigation. These complex cases often involve competing interests between the parties that can influence a judge’s determination on discovery timing and process.

  • Private plaintiffs are incentivized to obtain as much information about the case as early as possible to support their allegations and avoid having the case dismissed on summary judgment.
  • Defendants hope to delay, or save altogether, the expenditure of potentially millions in discovery costs.

A private lawsuit filed by Retrophin Inc. (Retrophin), under then-CEO Martin Shkreli, likely triggered an investigation by the FTC into a consummated transaction.  Both the private lawsuit and the FTC complaint resulted in settlement.  In addition, the FTC levied a $100 million penalty.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • In 2013, Questcor Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Questcor) acquired the U.S. rights to Synacthen Depot (Synacthen) from Novartis (Mallinckrodt later acquired Questcor).
  • Questcor’s $135 million deal with Novartis out-bid several companies seeking to acquire Synacthen, including biopharmaceutical company Retrophin, who bid $16 million for the Synacthen license.
  • In 2014, Retrophin (under then-CEO Martin Shkreli) filed suit against Questcor, alleging that the purpose of the transaction between Questcor and Novartis was to eliminate competition for Achthar, Novartis’ ACTH drug used to treat infantile spasms and nephrotic syndrome, by shutting down Synacthen.
  • Retrophin’s case was settled in 2015 with Mallinckrodt (who acquired Questcor in the interim) paying Retrophin $15.5 million.
  • There are reports that the FTC challenged the consummated transaction of Questcor/Novartis following Retophin’s lawsuit. The FTC’s challenge recently resulted in a $100 million monetary payment and licensing of Synacthen for treatment of infantile spasms and nephrotic syndrome to an FTC approved licensee.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • Even if a transaction is non-reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act, the FTC or DOJ may open an investigation into the transaction. The Questcor/Novartis transaction was not reported under the then-existing HSR rules because Novartis, the licensor, retained some manufacturing rights to Synacthen.
  • The FTC and DOJ may learn about potentially anticompetitive transactions in numerous ways, including HSR filings, news reports, complaints from disgruntled customers or competitors, private litigation involving the transaction, and as shown here, from the losing bidder.
  • HSR clearance or a determination that a transaction is not HSR reportable does not mean that the transaction is free and clear of government antitrust investigations or private litigation.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has looked at licensing boards many times in the past and advocated for regulations with less restriction that promote competition.  There are numerous examples of antitrust regulators’ interest in occupational licensing and competition concerns, including Advanced Practice Registered Nurses in the VA, non-lawyers in the provision of legal services, and dental regulatory boards.  Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen recently gave a speech at the Antonin Scalia Law School addressing economic liberty, including a critique of occupational licensing where she stated, “I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows.”

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • Acting Chairman Ohlhausen reiterated her view that occupational licensing inhibits economic liberty. “Market dynamics will naturally weed out those who provide a poor service, without danger to the public.  For many other occupations, the costs of added regulation limit the number of providers and drive up prices.  These costs often dwarf any public health or safety need and may actually harm consumers by limiting their access to beneficial services.”
  • In the 1950s, less than five percent of jobs required a license. Today, approximately 25 to 30 percent of jobs require a license.
  • Different states regulate different occupations, and licensing requirements for the same occupations often vary significantly among states.
  • In her speech, Acting Chairman Ohlhausen said she is creating an Economic Liberty Task Force within the FTC. This task force will focus on occupational licensing regulations.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • We will likely see an increase in FTC actions involving licensing boards, such as in North Carolina Dental, where it is not the state itself acting but self-interested active market incumbents who impose occupational licensing requirements that limit competition.
  • The FTC Task Force will seek to “eliminate and narrow overbroad occupational licensing restrictions that are not narrowly tailored to satisfy legitimate health and safety goals.”
  • The FTC will help states identify problematic occupational licensing and reforms that promote reciprocity among states. We could see a roll back of occupational regulations.
  • Licensing boards and those who are involved in licensing regulations should examine the ways in which the regulation affects or could affect competition, whether there is evidence that a regulation is necessary to achieve the targeted policy goal, whether the regulation is narrowly tailored to meet the policy goal, and whether a less restrictive alternative is available to achieve the policy goal and benefit competition.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) challenged a consummated transaction using a monopolization theory to allege that the acquisition would eliminate “nascent” competition for therapeutic adrenocorticotropic hormones (ACTH) in the United States.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • Questcor Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s (Questcor) H.P. Acthar Gel (Acthar) is the only ACTH product sold in the US, is the standard of care for infantile spasms and is indicated for several other diseases.
  • In 2013, Questcor acquired the US rights to Synacthen Depot (Synacthen) from Novartis. Questcor was subsequently acquired by Mallinckrodt.
  • Synacthen is pharmacologically very similar to Acthar, as the active ingredient in both drugs is an ACTH molecule.
  • At the time of the acquisition by Questcor, Novartis’ Synacthen had been used safely and effectively for decades in Europe, Canada and other parts of the world to treat patients suffering from infantile spasms and other diseases. Synacthen had not yet begun US clinical trials.
  • The FTC alleged a monopolization theory—that Questcor had “extinguished a nascent competitive threat to its monopoly” by outbidding several other companies who were interested in bringing Synacthen to market in the US to compete with Questcor’s Acthar.
  • Then FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez (she has since resigned) noted that Questcor had a history of taking advantage of its monopoly, repeatedly raising the price of Acthar “from $40 per vial in 2001 to more than $34,000 per vial today—an 85,000 percent increase.”
  • The FTC settlement requires a $100 million monetary payment and that Mallinckrodt (Questcor was acquired by Mallinckrodt) license Synacthen for treating infantile spasms and nephrotic syndrome to an FTC approved licensee.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • In some circumstances, an action by a monopolist to block a nascent threat to its monopoly can violate the antitrust laws.
  • Typically, the FTC does not challenge pharmaceutical overlaps involving pharmaceuticals that have not yet entered Phase 3 clinical trials because there is still significant uncertainty that a product will ultimately come to market.
  • The FTC appears to have made an exception to its typical practice because Synacthen was anticipated to gain US approval easily and compete significantly with Acthar. Synacthen was approved outside the US for decades and was understood to be a safe and effective ACTH treatment.
  • The FTC may bring an action at any time under Section 7 to determine the legality of an acquisition. However, the FTC challenged this consummated transaction under a Section 2 theory of monopolization. The FTC has many tools to challenge actions under the antitrust laws.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently granted US antitrust clearance for Enbridge’s acquisition of Spectra after the parties agreed to behavioral commitments to remedy an overlap for natural gas pipeline transportation from the wellhead in three markets off the coast of Louisiana (Green Canyon, Walker Ridge and Keathley Canyon).

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • The merging parties each own interests in competing natural gas pipelines – Enbridge is the sole owner of the Walker Ridge Pipeline; and Spectra holds a minority interest (~7.6%) in the Discovery Pipeline via its interests in DCP Midstream.
  • As part of Spectra’s minority interest in the Discovery Pipeline, Spectra had access to detailed information on the pipeline’s pricing and other competitively sensitive information. In addition, Spectra had board voting rights over the pipeline’s significant capital expenditures including expansions needed to connect to new wells.
  • FTC determined that in certain areas within each of the three geographic markets, the Walker Ridge and Discovery Pipeline were the closest pipelines to new wellheads in development and therefore the lowest priced options.
  • In granting antitrust clearance, the FTC required that Enbridge and Spectra erect firewalls such that information related to the Walker Ridge Pipeline would not be shared with any of Spectra’s partners in the Discovery Pipeline and that Discovery Pipeline information is not shared with any Enbridge individuals involved in the Walker Ridge Pipeline business.
  • The FTC also required any board members appointed by Enbridge or Spectra to DCP Midstream recuse themselves from any vote pertaining to the Discovery Pipeline, unless the vote involves expanding the Discovery Pipeline beyond natural gas pipeline services in the Gulf of Mexico or changing the entities’ ownership interests in the Discovery Pipeline.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • FTC could investigate and require remedies in overlaps involving minority ownership interests (even when less than 10%), particularly when the overlapping entities are close competitors and the acquisition would give access to competitively sensitive information and control over the entity.
  • The FTC continues to apply narrow product and geographic market definitions in oil and gas cases. Here the FTC alleged relevant markets involving natural gas pipeline transportation in particular areas in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • While the FTC has stated a strong preference for structural remedies when fixing horizontal overlaps, there are situations in which the FTC will conclude that a behavioral remedy is sufficient.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • In early February, the FTC released its Merger Remedies Study (the Study), which focused on transactions from 2006-2012 in which the FTC found a competitive problem that did not require a block outright, and allowed the transaction to gain clearance so long as the merging parties agreed to what the FTC determined were appropriate remedies to restore competition to the impacted market.
  • Via case study method, questionnaires and data, the FTC analyzed the outcomes of 89 remedial orders and self-critiqued its success in restoring competition and used the learnings to refine its internal best practices.
  • The report serves as an update to practitioners for understanding what is required to develop an effective remedy package, what qualities the FTC seeks in a buyer of the remedy package and how the FTC will seek to implement the remedy.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • On balance, the Study supported the FTC’s current practices.
  • Remedy packages consisting of an ongoing business were all successful—which confirms FTC’s long-held conviction that these kinds of divestitures are highly likely to succeed in restoring competition.
  • There will be heightened focus when the remedy package consists of selected assets (that is, not an ongoing business) and a heightened focus on the financing/funding of the divestiture buyer.
  • In these situations, merging parties should expect a fact intensive inquiry by the FTC, the potential for the FTC to seek larger asset packages that include products outside of the competitive problem area (if needed to make the proposed buyer competitive) and increased information sharing with the proposed buyer (and future competitor) to transition the business.
  • FTC has a strong preference for proposed buyers with experience and strong financial commitment to the business. These kinds of proposed buyers are more effective at securing the right personnel, understanding what’s needed to effectively compete (e.g., assets, supply agreements, production processes) and implementing the transition.