The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division issued a business review letter that underscores the flexibility of the US antitrust regulators towards competitor collaborations aimed at increasing the supply and distribution of medical equipment needed to fight the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This letter can provide guidance to other companies considering collaborations to assist in the response to COVID-19.
Aerospace and Defense Series: DOJ and FTC Vertical Merger Guidelines Will Impact Government Contractors
Last month, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released updated Vertical Merger Guidelines in draft form. These guidelines provide a useful resource for aerospace and defense contractors involved in M&A transactions. Vertical competition issues frequently arise in this industry given the nature of the supply base and contracting and supply relationships between companies operating at different levels of the supply chain.
This is the first time the antitrust agencies have released updated guidelines for analyzing vertical mergers since 1984. Although the agencies have updated the Horizontal Merger Guidelines several times since then (most recently in 2010), they have not provided similar updated guidance to businesses regarding vertical merger enforcement until now. The new guidelines summarize the practices, standards, and theories the agencies have used in evaluating vertical mergers for a number of years. Although the guidelines do not signal any shifts in current agency practice, they do provide the business community greater transparency about how the agencies analyze vertical mergers. This is helpful for the aerospace and defense industry, which is particularly susceptible to vertical competition issues given the heavy reliance on contracting out important elements at different levels of the supply chain.
Antitrust Litigation Update for Health Care Providers
2018 saw a significant upswing in antitrust litigation against health care providers; 27 cases were filed in 2018 versus 17 in 2017. In the latest Antitrust Update for Health Care Providers, we discuss what caused the notable rise, what kinds of cases were brought over the past two years and how they were decided, and what cases warrant particular attention in 2019.
Sixth Circuit Decision Affirms Summary Judgment Against Antitrust Challenge to Hospital Joint Operating Company’s Contracting Conduct
A recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is important for competitors involved in joint ventures because it states what mode of antitrust analysis—the per se rule or the rule of reason—applies to the conduct of joint ventures when it is challenged as anticompetitive. The decision is also significant because the court describes some steps joint venturers can take to improve the odds that their conduct will be analyzed under the more lenient rule of reason.
Antitrust M&A Snapshot | Regulator Focus on High-Tech Transactions, Acquisitions and Impact on Innovations
Antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe were very active in the final quarter of 2018 closing a large number of cases requiring in-depth investigations. In the United States, regulators continue their focus on the potential need to update their methods of reviewing high-tech transactions with public hearings on the future of antitrust enforcement.
In Europe, recent reviews of Takeda’s acquisition of Shire and the creation of a joint venture between Daimler and BMW show a focus on how transactions will impact innovation for new products.
Federal Court Opinion Reminds Health Care Providers to Assess the Antitrust Risks of Competitor Affiliations
The Attorney General of the State of Washington (the State) scored another victory last week in its federal antitrust challenge to Franciscan Health System’s (Franciscan) affiliations with two competing physician practices, Washington v. Franciscan Health System, Case No. C17-5690 (W.D. Wa.), pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Specifically, the district court ruled that Franciscan cannot assert as an affirmative defense that its affiliations are legal because the competing physician practices with which it affiliated would have been financially weakened without them.WHAT HAPPENED
- The Washington case arises out of two transactions that Franciscan and the Franciscan Medical Group (FMG) entered with competitors in the Kitsap Peninsula immediately west of Seattle, one of which was with The Doctors Clinic (TDC), a 54-physician practice.
- After reviewing Franciscan’s contractual relationship with TDC, the district court ruled in an Order granting the State’s Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings that the Defendants cannot assert the so-called “weakened competitor” defense. The court held that whether TDC was financially weak absent Franciscan’s affiliation can be evidence at trial under certain circumstances, but is not an affirmative defense justifying what is otherwise allegedly illegal price-fixing.
- This decision comes on the heels of a prior decision in July 2018 in which the district court struck the defendants’ related affirmative defense that TDC was a “failing company.”
- Together, the district court’s decisions indicate that parties entering affiliations without a complete unity of economic interests should be wary of relying on arguments or defenses that can carry greater weight in the merger context. The only way to defeat a price- or wage- fixing claim on the pleadings is to show either that 1) the parties achieved sufficient unity of economic interests to be considered one entity for antitrust purposes, or 2) the complaint did not sufficiently allege any agreement to restrain trade.
- Health care providers should be careful to comply with the antitrust laws even in situations where the parties believe an affiliation will result in real benefits for patients, efficiencies, higher quality of care or other improvements specific to the health care industry. These factors play no role when providers have engaged in price- or wage-fixing—for example, through joint payor contracting or jointly implementing employee salaries—without having achieved a full unity of economic interests.
THE LATEST: FTC’s New “Technology Task Force” Has Broad Mandate Including Review of Consummated Transactions
The US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Competition announced the launch of a new Technology Task Force that will investigate anticompetitive conduct, review past transactions, as well as contribute to pending merger reviews. The FTC’s investigation of consummated transactions will not be limited to large transactions that meet the HSR filing thresholds, but will also include so-called “non-reportable” transactions. The launch of this task force along with the ongoing FTC Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century is further evidence of US antitrust enforcers’ increasing focus on the technology sector.WHAT HAPPENED:
- On February 26, the FTC’s Bureau of Competition announced the creation of a Technology Task Force dedicated to monitoring competition in US technology markets. The mandate is expansive allowing for investigations of anticompetitive conduct, mergers and industry practices.
- Importantly, the task force is not only charged with aiding in the review of prospective mergers, but also investigating consummated mergers of any size. For consummated mergers, the task force has the authority to reconsider prior matters and seek the full set of remedies (e.g., divestiture, licensing, etc.) that would be available during the review of a prospective transaction.
- Patricia Galvan, currently the Deputy Assistant Director of the Mergers III Division, and Krisha Cerilli, currently Counsel to the Director, will lead the task force. Their team includes approximately 17 existing staff attorneys with experience in complex technological markets such as online advertising, social networking and mobile operating systems.
- Bureau of Competition Director Bruce Hoffman explained that “by centralizing [the FTC’s] expertise and attention, the new task force will be able to focus on these markets exclusively—ensuring they are operating pursuant to the antitrust laws, and taking action where they are not.”
- The launch of the Technology Task Force together with the ongoing FTC Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century highlights the FTC’s and DOJ’s increasing focus on maintaining “free and fair competition” in the technology sector.
- FTC Chairman Joseph Simons’s prior work at the FTC involved launching the Merger Litigation Task Force, which focused on hospital merger retrospectives, and sharpened the FTC’s approach in challenging health care transactions. This appears to be a similar move to sharpen the FTC’s knowledge and approach, but now directed at the technology sector.
- Technology companies that have recently completed mergers should take care not to draw scrutiny from antitrust enforcers.
- Typically, investigations of consummated transactions and anticompetitive conduct will begin with a review of publicly available materials before burdening targets with compulsory process and seeking information from customers, competitors and industry experts.
- Upon receiving information requests from the FTC, targets of the investigations should engage quickly to understand the scope and focus of the investigation. An information request likely means the FTC investigation has progressed beyond the initial phase.
- Industry participants (competitors, customers) could also receive significant information associated with FTC investigations. Those parties should also engage with the FTC quickly to jointly develop a reasonable plan for addressing [...]
Cartel Snapshot: February 2019
Although 2018 saw guilty pleas and new indictments in several ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations, the year finished by continuing a downward trend in antitrust enforcement. DOJ’s criminal and civil fines in 2018 ended around $400 million—well short of the billion-dollar plus highs in 2014 and 2015, during the height of the auto parts and foreign exchange investigations. EU fines ended at €800 million, which was less than in 2017 and less than one fourth of the amount of fines imposed in 2016.US DEVELOPMENTS
- The DOJ has intervened in three federal class actions in the Eastern District of Washington to express its view over the proper standard of scrutiny to apply to no-poach agreements that are at the heart of several civil suits across the country. While a longer, more formal statement from the DOJ is expected soon, it appears that the DOJ will argue that the rule of reason should apply to most if not all of these lawsuits.
- The DOJ revealed a new investigation into the bid rigging of fuel-supply contracts for US armed forces abroad. Three South Korea-based companies agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and to pay $82 million in criminal fines for their involvement in a decade-long bid-rigging conspiracy that targeted contracts to supply fuel to United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force bases in South Korea.
- Two former Deutsche Bank traders urged a Manhattan federal judge in December 2018 to reverse their convictions for rigging the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) and to dismiss the charges against them. Prosecutors obtained the convictions in October 2018 by arguing that the two traders had conspired with the bank’s Libor submitters to skew the lending benchmark to benefit their derivative trades. In December, the pair argued that prosecutors obtained that conviction by lying to the court and the jury and by hiding evidence from defense attorneys throughout the case.
- Two executives pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the DOJ’s investigation into price fixing in the freight-forwarding industry.
- While the DOJ’s investigation into price fixing of online promotional products appeared to slow, in November 2018, the DOJ announced new charges against another online promotional products company and its executive for conspiring to fix prices for customized promotional products, including wristbands, lanyards, temporary tattoos and buttons between May 2014 and June 2016.
- The DOJ’s investigation into bid rigging of public real estate foreclosure auctions continues, as additional charges and guilty pleas continue to roll in.
- Following up on an indictment from 2015, the DOJ obtained a plea agreement from an art dealer in the UK for agreeing with its competitors on Amazon Marketplace and elsewhere to fix the price of art posters sold online to customers in the US. The defendant agreed to pay a criminal fine of $50,000, plus fees, and agreed to a recommended sentence between 12 and 60 months.
- In November 2018, the Commission opened an investigation to determine [...]
Out of Bounds: Sports Agencies Flagged for Anticompetitive Bidding Agreements
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) recently sued former joint venture partners because they allegedly coordinated their competitive activities beyond the legitimate scope of their venture. This case illustrates several important points. First, companies who collaborate through joint ventures and similar arrangements need to be mindful that any legitimate collaborative activity does not “spill over” to restrain competition in other unrelated areas. Second, DOJ discovered the conduct during its review of documents produced in connection with a merger investigation. This is the most recent reminder of how broad ranging discovery in merger investigations can result in wholly unrelated conduct investigations and lawsuits. Third, one of the parties was a portfolio company of a private equity sponsor, highlighting how private investors can be targeted for antitrust violations. (more…)
Antitrust M&A Snapshot: July – December 2017 Update
United States: July – December 2017 Update
Although delays in antitrust appointments continued throughout the second half of 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) continued to actively investigate and challenge mergers and acquisitions. Notably, the DOJ challenged the vertical AT&T/Time Warner transaction, the first vertical merger the DOJ has tried since the 1970s. The end of 2017 showed a trend where the FTC and DOJ are focusing on structural remedies rather than behavioral remedies. Additionally, at the end of 2017, the FTC and DOJ challenged several consummated transactions, as well as transactions that were not reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act.
European Union: July – December 2017 Update
After two concentrations within the agrochemicals sector in the second quarter of 2017 — Dow/DuPont and ChemChina/Syngenta — the European Commission continued to see megamergers notifications in the agrochemical sector in the second half of 2017. The fourth quarter of 2017 saw the second Commission merger decision challenged successfully this year and the fourth case of annulment of a clearance decision since the implementation of the EU Merger Regulation.
Snapshot of Events (Legislation/Agency Remarks/Speeches/News, etc.)
- Seats at the FTC Remain Unfilled Despite Continued Progress in the Appointment of New Antitrust Leadership
After a long wait, on September 27, the Senate confirmed Makan Delrahim, President Trump’s nominee to head DOJ’s antitrust division. The DOJ has also named several deputies to serve under Delrahim: Andrew Finch, Bernard Nigro, Luke Froeb, Donald Kempf and Roger Alford. These positions are not subject to Senate confirmation.
President Trump nominated four Commissioners for the FTC, including Joseph Simons to lead the FTC as Chairman. Joe Simons is an experienced antitrust attorney who was previously Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. He has mainstream Republican views. Until the new Commissioners are confirmed, there must presently be unanimity between the two Commissioners for the FTC to take action.
- FTC Warns That It May Challenge Vertical Mergers
Acting Bureau of Competition Director, Bruce Hoffman, gave remarks at the Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium on September 13, 2017. He said that the FTC would be ready to challenge vertical mergers if there were competition issues to resolve. He added that the FTC may impose structural remedies in vertical mergers where it views the remedy as necessary to prevent competitive harm.
- Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) Introduces New Legislation to Curtail Market Concentration and Enhance Antitrust Scrutiny of Mergers and Acquisitions
On September 14, 2017, two bills were introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar to the Senate: the Consolidation Prevention and Competition PromotionAct (CPCPA) and the Merger Enforcement Improvement Act (MEIA). Both bills are part of the Senate Democrats’ “A Better Deal” antitrust agenda. The CPCPA would impose extra scrutiny on so-called “mega deals” by shifting the burden of proof from antitrust enforcers to the companies. It would also update the Clayton Act to refer to “monopsonies” in addition to “monopolies.” The MEIA [...]