The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently reached a settlement with Coach USA Inc. and City Sights LLC, breaking up their joint venture. The DOJ also employed the rarely used remedy of disgorgement to recover $7.5 million in profits from the defendants. This case demonstrates the aggressive posture the antitrust agencies are taking to challenge and impose harsh remedies upon transactions that are not reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act. It also highlights the need to properly evaluate and prepare for the antitrust implications of non-reportable transactions under the HSR Act.
DOJ Obtains Disgorgement
In 2009, two operators of hop-on, hop-off bus tours in New York City formed a joint venture, Twin America LLC. Prior to the formation of Twin America, Coach USA and City Sights were the two largest companies in the alleged hop-on, hop-off bus tour market in New York City, with a combined 99 percent share of the market. The DOJ alleged that the two companies’ joint venture created an unlawful monopoly and enabled them to increase prices by approximately 10 percent. The DOJ filed an antitrust complaint challenging the deal in December 2012, well after it was consummated in 2009. The case was proceeding towards trial when the parties agreed to a settlement, which they announced on March 16, 2015.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants must take several steps to restore competition allegedly lost through the formation of the venture. Twin America must divest all 50 of City Sight’s valuable Manhattan bus stop authorizations. The divestiture will eliminate a significant barrier to entry, as the bus stop authorizations are required by the New York City Department of Transportation to operate bus tours, and little capacity for new authorizations exists. Coach USA and Twin America must also establish antitrust training programs and provide the government with advance notice of any future acquisition in the alleged market. Coach USA must pay $250,000 in attorney’s fees to the United States in connection with claims that it spoliated evidence and did not meet its document preservation obligations.
Most noteworthy, the settlement requires the defendants to pay $7.5 million to disgorge what the DOJ viewed as excess profits obtained as a result of the combination. Prior to this settlement, the defendants had already agreed to pay $19 million to settle a related class action lawsuit. One criticism of disgorgement as a remedy in antitrust matters is that disgorgement may excessively punish defendants that are also subject to potential civil litigation in which they may pay additional damages. Here, the DOJ concluded that the defendants were unjustly enriched by an amount greater than the $19 million settlement, and the additional $7.5 million disgorgement was intended to divest the defendants of additional ill-gotten profits and deter similar conduct in the future.
This disgorgement is significant. It is a remedy that the FTC and DOJ have used very infrequently, particularly in merger cases. To the extent the Twin America case creates a precedent for the use of that remedy, it increases [...]