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.
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On November 29, 2017, a Japanese auto parts manufacturer and its US subsidiary defeated the US Department of Justice’s claims that the companies conspired with others to fix prices and rig bids for automotive body sealing products. The case involved a rare trial involving criminal antitrust charges. After 13 days of trial, a jury returned

With its latest lawsuit to block an acquisition of physicians, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) confirmed last week that monitoring physician consolidation is a priority. The FTC and North Dakota Attorney General sued to block the proposed acquisition by a health system (Sanford Health) of Mid-Dakota Clinic (MDC), which both serve the areas of Bismarck and Mandan, North Dakota. The deal would allegedly create very high market shares in several physician service markets.

WHAT HAPPENED

  • Sanford Health is a vertically integrated health system, which operates a general acute care hospital in Bismarck and clinics providing primary care and specialty services. Sanford employs approximately 160 physicians who work in Bismarck or Mandan. MDC is a multispecialty medical practice employing 61 physicians who provide services in Bismarck.
  • Concurrent with its sealed federal complaint to preliminarily enjoin the deal, the FTC filed an administrative complaint that alleges that the transaction would create anticompetitive effects in four physician service markets: adult primary care services, pediatric services, Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) services, and general surgery services. Sanford and MDC are the area’s two largest providers of each of those services; in general surgery, they are the only providers.
  • The complaint contends that the relevant geographic market is no larger than the four-county Bismarck, ND Metropolitan Statistical Area. The FTC alleges that this area encompasses the locations where, to be marketable to employers, commercial health plan networks must include physicians.
  • The complaint alleges that Sanford and MDC are each other’s closest competitors and that the combination would result in post-transaction market shares of 75 percent for adult primary care services, over 80 percent for pediatric services, over 85 percent for OB/GYN services and 100 percent of general surgery services.
  • The FTC rejects as unsubstantiated and not merger specific the parties’ claims that the transaction would yield significant cost savings and quality improvements. In any event, the FTC alleges that the claimed efficiencies do not outweigh the transaction’s likely competitive harm.


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