The potential for government investigation increases during periods of rapid and extreme movement in price. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) recently reiterated its focus on prosecuting violations of antitrust laws, especially in areas affected by the coronavirus outbreak. On March 9, 2020, the DOJ announced that individuals or companies engaging in price fixing, bid-rigging, customer or region allocation, or other antitrust violations could face criminal prosecution. Government scrutiny is likely to be even higher on companies that produce items for sale to federal, state or local governments, as the DOJ’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force acts as a dedicated watchdog over government contractors to prevent bid-rigging in government contracts. More information on the Strike Force is available here.
- On September 4, 2019, the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division (DOJ) sued to block Novelis Inc.’s proposed $2.6 billion acquisition of Aleris Corporation.
- DOJ alleged that the transaction would combine two of only four North American producers of aluminum auto body sheet (ABS). DOJ further alleged that Aleris was a new and disruptive rival supplier of aluminum ABS whose expansion into the North American market immediately impacted pricing.
- Prior to DOJ’s suit to block the transaction, the merging parties and DOJ agreed that the dispute boiled down to a single dispositive issue: whether aluminum ABS constitutes a relevant product market, and specifically, whether the market for aluminum ABS also includes steel ABS.
- DOJ and the merging parties agreed to refer this product market issue to arbitration pursuant to the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 (5 U.S.C. § 571 et seq.) and the Antitrust Division’s implementing regulations (61 Fed. Reg. 36,896 (July 15, 1996).
- In a filing in federal court the DOJ explained that it decided to arbitrate rather than litigate the merger in federal court because all sides agreed that the case turned on the single question of product market definition and referring the matter to arbitration would lessen the burden on the Court and reduce litigation costs to the merging parties and to the United States.