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FTC “Prior Approval” Policy for Future Transactions Raises Antitrust Risks for Buyers and Sellers

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted July 21, 2021, to repeal a 1995 policy statement that eliminated prior approval and prior notice provisions from most merger settlements. In repealing this longstanding policy—and likely insisting on the inclusion of such provisions in future settlements—the FTC will have significantly greater authority to review and block future transactions of companies who enter into consent orders with the FTC. This policy change will have significant implications for the negotiation of antitrust risk provisions in transaction agreements.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • In its 1995 Policy Statement Concerning Prior Approval and Prior Notice Provisions in Merger Cases, the FTC announced that it would no longer routinely require prior approval of certain future acquisitions in consent orders entered in merger cases.
    • Prior to this statement, FTC consent orders to settle merger reviews routinely required parties to seek and receive the FTC’s prior approval for future acquisitions in the relevant product and geographic markets at issue in the first challenge/consent order for a 10-year period. In some cases, the FTC also included a prior notice provision obligating companies to notify the FTC of any intended transactions that were not subject to the premerger notification and waiting period of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (HSR Act).
  • On July 21, 2021, the FTC voted 3-2 to rescind its 1995 policy statement, opening the door to requiring prior approval and prior notice provisions in future merger consent orders.

 
WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • This policy change substantially increases the FTC’s merger enforcement authority for companies that settle investigations with a consent order and become subject to prior approval requirements.
    • Prior approval provisions place the burden on companies to demonstrate that their transactions are not anticompetitive.
    • The FTC can deny approval for these future transactions with very little—if any—limits on its discretion.
    • This differs significantly from the enforcement regime under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, where the FTC has the burden of proving that a transaction will substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly.
  • Prior notice provisions require companies to provide the FTC with advanced notice of certain transactions—even smaller transactions that typically would fall under the HSR threshold (e.g., transactions valued below $92 million). The notification requirement increases the likelihood of FTC investigation for these transactions.
  • By rescinding the 1995 policy statement, the FTC may seek to impose such provisions in its orders as a routine matter. It remains to be seen under what circumstances the FTC will insist on prior approval or prior notice (or how broad they will be crafted). In supporting the repeal, FTC Chair Lina Khan stated that the FTC will employ these provisions based on “facts and circumstances of the proposed transaction.”
    • These prior approval and/or notice provisions, when previously employed, generally lasted for the term of the order—typically 10 years.
    • Generally, the scope of these provisions was limited to the geographic and product market in which the FTC determined that the [...]

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What to Expect from FTC’S Big Tech Merger Review

On Feb. 11, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had issued special orders to five large technology companies, requesting information on prior acquisitions completed by the companies during the past 10 years. The FTC’s announcement follows several recent high-profile events relating to technology mergers, including the FTC’s Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century and the FTC’s creation of a Technology Task Force.

The key question driving the FTC’s special orders is whether nonreportable deals might warrant further investigation or challenge. The special orders present challenges and opportunities for the five companies and for other acquisitive companies that may face questions down the road.

To access the full article, featured in Law360, please click here.




FTC Challenges Axon’s Consummated Acquisition of Body-Worn Camera Competitor

The US antitrust regulators continue to challenge consummated transactions. On January 3, 2020, the FTC filed an administrative complaint against Axon Enterprise, Inc., challenging its consummated acquisition of VieVu, a body-worn camera competitor, from Safariland. The FTC also challenged non-compete agreements that Axon and Safariland signed in connection with the acquisition. The complaint demonstrates the FTC’s continued focus on challenging consummated transactions, and on defining “price discrimination markets” around sets of customers with unique needs. The FTC’s challenge also shows that merging parties should avoid signing non-compete agreements that are not reasonably limited in scope and duration. If these agreements are not appropriately tailored to achieving a legitimate business interest, the FTC may challenge them as anticompetitive.

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The Latest: Health Care Transactions Will Require Advance Notice to Washington State AG

What Happened:

  • On May 7, 2019, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State signed House Bill 1607 into law. The law goes into effect for transactions closing after January 1, 2020, and requires advance notice to the Washington Attorney General (AG) of certain transactions 60 days in advance of closing the transaction. The intent of the law is “to ensure that competition beneficial to consumers in health care markets across Washington remains vigorous and robust[.]”
  • Parties must file written notice with the AG for any deal that involves two or more hospitals, hospital systems, or other provider organizations that represent seven or more health care providers in contracting with insurance companies or third-party administrators. A “provider” includes a physician, nurse, medical assistant, therapist, midwife, athletic trainer, home care aide, massage therapist, among others.
    • The law can apply to transactions involving very small medical groups, as long as there are seven providers who contract with insurance providers. The law can also apply to transactions with non-Washington parties if the out-of-state party generates $10 million or more in revenue from Washington patients.
  • Given the relatively low thresholds for an AG filing, this law would require notifications for transactions that are not reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR Act), as well as those that are reportable under the HSR Act.
    • If a transaction is HSR reportable, the parties must submit their HSR filing to the AG.
    • If a transaction is not HSR reportable, parties must submit the following information in writing to the AG:
      • The names and addresses of the parties;
      • The locations where health care services are provided by each party;
      • A brief description of the nature and purpose of the proposed transaction; and
      • The anticipated effective date of the transaction.
    • The notification requirement applies to mergers, acquisitions and contracting affiliations. A contracting affiliation is a “formation of a relationship between two or more entities that permits the entities to negotiate jointly with carriers or third-party administrators over rates for professional medical services” but does not include arrangements among entities under common ownership.
    • The penalty for noncompliance is $200 per day.
    • The AG has 30 days from the date of notice to submit a request to the parties for additional information. If the AG has antitrust concerns, it may serve a civil investigative demand to investigate.

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THE LATEST: DOJ Announces New Model Timing Agreement for Merger Investigations

Consistent with Assistant Attorney General Delrahim’s speech on September 25, 2018, the DOJ released a new Model Timing Agreement which sets out that it will require fewer custodians, take fewer depositions, and commit to a shorter overall review period in exchange for the provision of detailed information from the merging parties earlier in the Second Request process than has previously been required.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • In November, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) published a new Model Timing Agreement (the Model) much like the FTC’s model published earlier this year. Timing agreements are agreements between agency staff and merging parties that outline expected timing for various events (g., production of documents and data, timeline for depositions and front-office meetings if needed) and help provide clarity for the agencies to conduct an orderly investigation during a Second Request.
  • By providing this Model, the DOJ is signaling that it wants certainty on timing during its Second Request reviews and that this Model is a fast way for the parties and the DOJ to come to agreement on these issues.
  • Some highlights of the DOJ Model include:
    • Parties must wait 60 days after substantial compliance to consummate transactions and give 10 days’ notice prior to closing.
    • The Model limits the number of custodians to 20 per party and depositions to 12 per party, except in extenuating circumstances.
    • The Model reserves the DOJ’s ability to add 5 more custodians at any time prior to filing a complaint, with the requirement that parties must produce those individual’s responsive documents within 15 days or the agreed timing will be tolled.
    • For document productions, depending on production method (technology assisted review or linear review), all responsive, non-privileged documents must be produced approximately 30-45 days before substantial compliance. Production of potentially privileged documents ultimately deemed not privileged must be produced approximately 10-25 days before the substantial compliance certification date.
    • Most data productions are required 30-45 days before substantial compliance.

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New FTC Interpretation Will Require HSR Act Filing for Many Hospital Affiliation Transactions

The Premerger Notification Office (PNO) of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently formalized a new position on Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR Act) reporting obligations for certain not-for-profit, non-stock transactions. The change is currently in effect and applies to transactions that have not yet closed. The change in position will require reporting of many hospital transactions that have not traditionally been treated as reportable events. The biggest area of change relates to affiliation transactions where hospitals or health systems affiliate under a new parent entity.

Under its previous position, the PNO focused on whether a transaction results in a change of “control” of the board of directors of one or more of the combining entities. Under its new position, the PNO will focus on beneficial ownership–whether one party receives beneficial ownership over the assets of another party as a result of the transaction. Now, a potentially reportable acquisition can occur even when there is no change in the control of the board of directors of one of the combining entities because formal board control is not the exclusive method of obtaining beneficial ownership.

In a recently published Tip Sheet, the PNO provided analysis of reportability for three types of not-for-profit combinations that it regularly sees, which we summarize below. The first two examples involve traditional application of the rules to hospital transactions, while the third example represents the PNO’s newly formed position on affiliations. Note that in all of the examples below, we focus on the nature of the transaction structure to evaluate whether a potentially reportable acquisition of assets has occurred. In any specific transaction, the parties would also need to evaluate whether the statutory thresholds are met (e.g., the $84.4 million size-of-transaction test), as well as whether any exemption applies.

1. A simple acquisition in which an existing acquiring person (g., a not-for-profit hospital) is deemed to hold the assets of the acquired entity (e.g., another not-for-profit hospital) as a result of the acquisition. This can happen in a variety of ways, such as a straight asset acquisition or a transaction in which one not-for-profit becomes the sole corporate member of another. If one not-for-profit obtains the right to manage and operate another through a corporate transaction, that is likely a reportable structure.

a. PNO conclusion: This structure is reportable as an asset acquisition.

2. A transaction in which the existing not-for-profit entities remain independent but form a new joint venture entity as a jointly owned subsidiary or affiliate. The pre-existing entities remain separate persons for HSR Act purposes.

a.  PNO conclusion: This structure is reportable. However, the 16 C.F.R. § 802.40 exemption for the formation of a not-for-profit joint venture is likely to apply.
b. The illustration below depicts this structure:

3. A transaction in which the existing not-for-profit entities consolidate under a new not-for-profit entity. The existing entities lose [...]

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THE LATEST: FTC Announces New Model Timing Agreement for Merger Investigations

WHAT HAPPENED:
  • On August 7, the FTC published a new Model Timing Agreement. Timing agreements are agreements between FTC staff and merging parties that outline the FTC’s expected timing for various events in order for it to conduct an orderly investigation during a Second Request.
  • The FTC expects the Model Timing Agreement to be used as drafted (or in a similar form) for all transactions that receive a Second Request. The FTC has used timing agreements frequently in the past, as has the DOJ, but the FTC has now published a model, which means this is likely to become the standard practice moving forward.
  • Parties are not required to enter into a timing agreement. However, in practicality, if parties do not agree to the timing agreement, the agency will proceed as if it must be in court to block the deal within 30 days of compliance. Therefore, it will prepare for litigation and will not consider settlement options or engage with the parties on the issues in the same way it would if the agency had more time under a timing agreement.
  • Some highlights of the new Model Timing Agreement are provided below (Note: All days listed refer to calendar days):
    • Parties must provide 30 days’ notice before certifying substantial compliance, and such notice cannot be provided until at least 10 days after signing the timing agreement.
    • Parties cannot close a proposed transaction until a specified time period after substantial compliance with the Second Request. The model indicates this will be 60 days in less complex matters or 90 days in more complex matters, but could be longer than 90 days in “matters involving particularly complicated industries.”
    • Parties must provide 30 days’ notice before consummating the proposed transaction and cannot provide notice more than 40 days before the date on which they have a good faith basis to believe they will have cleared other closing conditions and will be able to complete the transaction, absent an FTC action to block the transaction.
    • The agreement includes a stipulated Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) which will be entered in the event of a challenge. The TRO prevents the parties from consummating the transaction until after five days following a ruling on a motion for preliminary injunction.
    • The timing agreement contains other timing-related provisions such as for document productions and investigational hearings as part of the FTC’s investigation.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
  • Though the Model Timing Agreement does not affect the statutory expiration of the HSR waiting period, it commits the parties not to consummate the transaction for a much longer period and, therefore, effectively extends the waiting period far longer than the 30 days specified under the HSR Act.
  • The 40-day notice required before the closing date means that if there is another condition in the way of closing, such as an ongoing investigation before the European Commission or in China, the parties cannot provide their notice of the anticipated closing date to the FTC. The FTC will [...]

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Trump’s DOJ Challenges Merger Cleared during Waning Days of Obama Administration

WHAT HAPPENED
  • On December 1, 2016 Parker-Hannifin agreed to acquire Clarcor for $4.3 billion.
  • The merger agreement included a $200 million divestiture cap – that is, Parker-Hannifin was required, if necessary, to divest assets representing up to $200 million in net sales to obtain antitrust clearance.
  • The initial antitrust waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR Act) expired on January 17, 2017.
  • Parker-Hannifin completed the acquisition on February 28, 2017.
  • Nearly seven months later on September 26, 2017, the DOJ filed suit in US District Court for the District of Delaware seeking to require Parker-Hannifin to divest either its or Clarcor’s aviation fuel filtration assets.
  • The DOJ did not include in its complaint an allegation or statement that the parties increased prices.
  • The DOJ press release indicates that the parties “failed to provide significant document or data productions in response to the department’s requests.” We believe that this refers to the DOJ’s post-closing investigation.
  • The DOJ did not suggest in its complaint or the press release that the parties failed to provide required documentation under the HSR Act (e.g., Item 4 documents). During the initial 30-day HSR waiting period, the parties are under no obligation to submit documentation or data to DOJ or FTC requests – all responses are voluntary.
WHAT THIS MEANS
  • Challenges to transactions after the HSR waiting period expired are rare and typically involve a situation where the parties failed to supply required documentation under the HSR Act.
  • Challenges post-HSR clearance are even rarer when the parties complied with their obligations under the HSR Act and supplied all required documentation (e.g., Item 4 documents).
  • The DOJ’s post-HSR clearance action demonstrates that the DOJ may still challenge a transaction post-closing if it later discovers a niche problematic overlap that it did not discover during the initial HSR waiting period.
  • While this challenge may be an aberration, it raises additional considerations when drafting risk allocation provisions in merger agreements for HSR reportable transactions because merger agreements do not typically account for a post-HSR clearance challenge from the DOJ or FTC.
  • DOJ action in this matter suggests the Trump administration is unlikely to be lax in its merger enforcement and will continue to analyze competition in narrow markets.



Flurry of Antitrust Merger Enforcement Actions as Obama Presidency Comes to a Close

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced several antitrust enforcement actions in advance of the inauguration of President Trump, including settlements for failures to file under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (HSR Act), a challenge to an unreportable deal and a settlement of a “gun-jumping” claim under the HSR Act. These cases illustrate the importance of compliance with the often complex reporting, waiting period and substantive aspects of antitrust laws in connection with acquisitions of various types, whether or not those acquisitions require premerger reporting. Failure to comply can result in significant financial penalties.

Two HSR “Failure to File” Settlements. On January 17, 2017, the FTC announced two settlements for failures to submit HSR filings and observe the statutory waiting period under the HSR Act prior to consummating acquisitions that met the relevant thresholds. The HSR Act requires notification of certain acquisitions of voting securities, assets and non-corporate interests if the value held as result of the transaction is in excess of certain notification thresholds and size of person thresholds (if applicable), and the transaction is not otherwise exempt. Parties to reportable transactions must observe the statutory waiting period prior to closing. If they fail to file, or otherwise do not observe the waiting period under the HSR Act, the parties may be liable for civil penalties of up to $40,654 per day (which was recently increased from $40,000, effective February 24, 2017).

In the first settlement, Ahmet Okumus agreed to pay $180,000 in connection with failing to notify for his purchases of voting securities of Web.com Group, Inc. (Web.com). According to the complaint, in September 2014, Okumus acquired voting securities of Web.com and as a result, held approximately 13.5 percent of the voting securities of Web.com. Okumus continued to acquire voting securities of Web.com through November 2014. Okumus did not file an HSR notification prior to making these acquisitions, relying on the “investment only” exemption, which exempts acquisitions resulting in holdings of 10 percent or less of the issued and outstanding voting securities if the shares are held solely for the purpose of investment (see 15 U.S.C. § 18a(c)(9) and 16 C.F.R. § 802.9). However, because Okumus held in excess of 10 percent, this exemption was not applicable. In late November of 2014, Okumus made a corrective filing that allowed him to acquire additional Web.com voting securities for approximately five years, provided that the value of the voting securities he held as a result of any acquisition did not exceed the $100 million (as adjusted) notification threshold. In a letter that accompanied his corrective filing, he indicated that the failure to file was inadvertent. The FTC did not seek civil penalties in that instance.

In June of 2016, Okumus began acquiring additional voting securities of Web.com. Later that month he acquired 236,589 voting securities of Web.com, and as a result of that acquisition, Okumus held voting securities valued (per the HSR rules) in excess of the $100 million (as [...]

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FTC Settles Allegations of HSR Act Violation by Activist Investment Fund

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a settlement on August 24, 2015, with Third Point Funds for failing to file a notification under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act (HSR Act) in connection with the acquisition of shares in Yahoo! Inc. (Yahoo) in 2011. Third Point Funds initially did not file and observe the HSR waiting period because it believed its acquisitions were exempt under the so-called “investment-only” exemption. The settlement provides insight into how the FTC interprets the investment-only exemption, and an important reminder that the HSR Act is a procedural statute for which the lack of competitive effect has no bearing on how the FTC chooses to enforce violations of its reporting requirements.

Read the full On the Subject.




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