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Has Antitrust Enforcement Been ‘Reinvigorated’ Under Obama?

In the 2008 presidential election campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama promised to “reinvigorate” antitrust enforcement. Over the last few years, several observers have concluded that the Obama administration’s antitrust record is not substantially different from that of his predecessor. Conventional wisdom suggests that antitrust enforcement is non-partisan. Some key statistics bear out this conclusion, but a comparative review of the data in Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Annual Reports published jointly by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), including the recently issued fiscal year 2014 report, reveals some significant differences in antitrust enforcement during the Obama administration. Analyzing the first six years of each administration reveals some superficial differences, but also significant continuity. Between 2001 and 2006, the agencies received a total of 9080 HSR filings; in 2009–2014 they received only 7530...

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Top Antitrust Enforcers Respond to Congressional Questioning

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Assistant Attorney General William Baer testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law on May 15, 2015. The oversight hearing provided an opportunity for the heads of the U.S. antitrust enforcement agencies to survey their agencies’ priorities and recent achievements. The two agency heads also faced congressional questions on a variety of topics ranging from proposed reforms to the FTC’s merger review process to the alleged unfair targeting of foreign firms by Chinese antitrust authorities. In her prepared testimony, Chairwoman Ramirez reviewed her agency’s recent activity, emphasizing especially recent U.S. Supreme Court and appellate court victories. She reiterated the agency’s strategic focus on core areas of concern, including health care, where the agency continues to review health care provider and pharmaceutical industry...

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Parking Heater Manufacturer Pleads Guilty to Price-Fixing

On March 12, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Espar Inc., pleaded guilty to one count of price-fixing under the Sherman Act in a scheme involving parking heaters for commercial vehicles that ran from October 2007 through December 2012.  Parking heaters heat the inside of a vehicle when the engine is not running. According to the press release, Espar, a parking heater manufacturer, agreed to pay a criminal fine and cooperate in the DOJ’s ongoing investigation.  Espar and its co-conspirators discussed prices for parking heaters and agreed to set a price floor for parking heater kits sold to aftermarket customers.  Further, the companies agreed to coordinate the timing and amount of price increases, and enforced the agreement by exchanging information.  Investigation into the other companies is ongoing, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although the judge initially agreed to Espar’s and DOJ’s joint request to...

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Increasing Antitrust Risk in Non-Reportable Transactions – DOJ Obtains Disgorgement of Profits in Tour Bus Settlement

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...

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Top Antitrust Watchdog to Merging Firms: DOJ Not Interested in Remedies that Require Ongoing Regulatory Oversight

Head U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust enforcer, Bill Baer, believes the Federal Trade Commission and DOJ are law enforcement agencies, not regulators.  In his recent speech at the Global Competition Review Fourth Annual Antitrust Leaders Forum, Baer stressed that antitrust regulation “is not what we do.  And it is not how we ought to think about what we do.”  He added that the antitrust agencies “do not aspire to be regulators or to pick winners and losers.  Instead antitrust enforcement, done right, focuses on removing impediments to competitive markets and protecting market structures that facilitate competition.”  Baer’s enforcement-minded approach likely explains one reason why the federal antitrust agencies do not typically accept conduct remedies to resolve antitrust concerns.  Conduct remedies require an entity to take, or refrain from, certain business conduct (e.g., price maintenance commitments).  The federal antitrust agencies disfavor...

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Aerospace & Defense Series: Leading Antitrust Considerations for M&A Transactions

Aerospace and defense contractors engage in a wide range of mergers, acquisitions and joint venture transactions, which are often subject to heightened antitrust scrutiny. This article highlights some of the leading antitrust factors that contractors should consider when contemplating M&A transactions in their unique industry. Read the full article.

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Coastal Water Freight Transportation Company Pleads Guilty and Pays $45 Million Fine for Price-Fixing

by Nicole L. Castle Today the Department of Justice announced that Horizon Lines LLC agreed to plead guilty and pay a $45 million fine for its involvement in price fixing coastal water freight services between the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.  This plea is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the coastal water freight transportation industry.  As a result of the investigation, five former executives have been charged and sentenced to serve prison time.     For additional information, please visit: http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/press_releases/2011/267605.htm

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