Having dismissed the Sherman Act Section 1 conspiracy and Section 2 monopolization claims of Suture Express in August 2013, a federal judge in Kansas, on April 11, 2016, tossed the remainder of plaintiff’s $200 million claim, which asserted that Cardinal Health and Owens & Minor, wound care companies, entered into a predatory pricing scheme to prevent hospitals from buying the plaintiff’s competing products. Suture Express, Inc., v. Cardinal Health, Inc., et al., 2:12-cv-02760.
The court determined that the summary judgment record did not demonstrate an injury to competition in the acute care market resulting from defendants’ alleged pricing arrangement, as the plaintiff failed to establish that defendants had market power. Rather, according to the court, the record on summary judgment demonstrated a competitive market, where a number of defendants’ rivals have been able to grow their businesses and compete effectively against defendants, while defendants’ market shares have remained relatively stable; in fact, the court found that defendants’ themselves competed against one another.
In dismissing the case, the court noted, as courts usually do in cases where the record demonstrates, at most, an injury only to the plaintiff, the antitrust laws were designed to protect competition not competitors, and the failure to demonstrate an injury to competition in the market is fatal to a plaintiff’s Sherman Act claims.
Although, as this case shows, antitrust defendants may have to endure lengthy and expensive litigation, experienced antitrust counsel, familiar with the deep and growing body of defense-oriented antitrust decisions, have a number of arrows in their quiver for shooting down antitrust claims.
Dental and orthodontic practices and dental laboratories around the U.S. are being represented in class actions filed this week in federal courts in Texas and New York, see, e.g., Comfort Care Family Dental, P.C. et al v. Henry Schein, Inc. et al, 1:16-cv-00282 (E.D. NY), that claim defendants Henry Schein, Inc., Patterson Companies, Inc., and Benco Dental Supply Company (“Benco”), alleged to be the dominant dental product distributors in the U.S., together controlling over 80% of the national market for the distribution of dental supplies and dental equipment, conspired to boycott competitors in that market in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.
The Comfort Care complaint asserts that Defendants’ conduct constitutes a horizontal group boycott that resulted in either a per se violation of Section 1 or a violation of the Sherman Act under the “rule of reason,” and alleges that Defendants “frequently communicated with each other at in-person meetings, via electronic mail and texts, and through phone calls” to collectively respond to new competitors and pressure dental associations as part of the group boycott. The Comfort Care complaint also provides economic information purporting to demonstrate that the alleged market is highly concentrated, has high barriers to entry, and has experienced increased pricing despite static or declining demand, all of which support the claim of anticompetitive conduct.
In addition to the private antitrust actions, as the Comfort Care complaint alleges, various state AGs and the FTC are investigating Defendants’ conduct as well, and Benco has already agreed to a consent judgment with the Texas AG pertaining to some of the conduct at issue in the private actions.
A per se violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, generally requires an agreement among horizontal competitors that unreasonably restrains trade. To withstand a motion to dismiss, a Section 1 plaintiff must allege facts that suggest direct of evidence of an agreement among the defendants, as opposed to alleging facts that merely are consistent with parallel conduct. These principles have been referred to by some courts as creating a heightened pleading standard for Section 1 claims.
In Arapahoe Surgery Center, LLC, et al. v. Cigna Healthcare, Inc., et al., 2015 U.S. Dist. Lexis 28375 (D. CO.), the Colorado District Court determined that the plaintiffs’ allegations of a group boycott were sufficient to meet the pleading requirements under Section 1, and therefore denied a motion to dismiss filed by three insurance carrier defendants. The specificity of the factual allegations concerning the agreement among the defendants, and the acts in furtherance thereof, underscore the importance of antitrust compliance in the healthcare and health insurance industries. Continue reading “Specific Facts Suggest Hospitals and Insurers Agreed to Group Boycott”