Antitrust & Price Fixing

ANTITRUST LITIGATION

Fair competition is a hallmark of the United States’ free market system. It is the American way. At times, our system falls victim to anti-competitive conduct, often carried out by foreign multinational conglomerates. Bonsignore Trial Lawyers recoup the economic losses caused by suppliers who unlawfully fix prices in violation of federal and state antitrust laws. Antitrust laws not only prohibit a company with a major share of the market from keeping out competition; they also prohibit major players from combining their resources, conspiring to keep out competition or to otherwise fix prices.

Bonsignore Trial Lawyers have extensive experience in antitrust cases involving price-fixing, market allocation and tying arrangements. Bonsignore Trial Lawyers represent various businesses, including government entities and organizations. Most cases are accepted on a contingency basis.

Bonsignore lawyers have taken on a wide range of antitrust actions over the past 20 years, resulting in the recovery of over a billion dollars for our business clients.

FEATURED ANTITRUST CASES
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COPIES OF EXEMPLAR ANTITRUST COMPLAINTS FILED

AUTOMOTIVE

ANTITRUST VIOLATIONS COST YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS MONEY

The United States Department of Justice has documented that antitrust law violations significantly raise the cost of products and services and cause American businesses to pour billions of dollars each year into the pockets of antitrust violators. Fines assessed through government enforcement actions are paid to the federal government.

BONSIGNORE TRIAL LAWYERS RETURN LOST PROFITS TO AMERICAN BUSINESSES

Monies paid by businesses to antitrust violators are lost profits until Bonsignore Trial Lawyers and other skilled and aggressive private antitrust lawyers return the money to American businesses through the enforcement of America’s antitrust laws. Enforcement actions also ensure that the prices your business pays for goods and services reflect robust competition in a free-market economy, not prices inflated by backroom deals, conspiracies, and bid rigging. Successful antitrust claimants may recover up to three times the amount of actual monetary damages, also known as treble damages. Through antitrust litigation, Bonsignore Trial Lawyers’ antitrust attorneys also help clients to make important contributions to the maintenance of fair and free market pricing.
COMPETITION AND ANTITRUST PRINCIPLES

The United States’ economy is premised upon the existence of competition between commercial entities. Anticompetitive conduct creates hidden costs to businesses and consumers by artificially driving up prices. To insure that competition is protected and anticompetitive behavior is punished, state and federal antitrust laws have been enacted.

Antitrust laws were first put in place in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to deal with the problem of “trusts”. At that time, “unified management” enabled companies to unfairly exercise complete control over the market for particular products – from manufacture to distribution to sale and ultimate purchase by the consumer. Competitors were unfairly driven out of the market, and prices increased in the absence of competition. The unfair use of market dominance caused great economic losses for businesses and end-use consumers and contributed to the near collapse of the United States’ economy.

To eliminate these abuses and to maintain a fair and level playing filed for all businesses, “antitrust” laws were enacted. Antitrust laws are designed to restore profits and prevent or deter unlawful business practices that decrease competition. Antitrust laws encourage competition among companies and help ensure a competitive economy.

EXAMPLES OF ANTITRUST VIOLATIONS

LOST PROFITS ARE CAUSED BY OVERCHARGES, UNDERCHARGES AND REFUSALS TO DEAL

Anticompetitive conduct that results in lost profits comes in many forms. Bonsignore Trial Lawyers restore lost profits to American businesses regardless of the type anticompetitive conduct at issue. Businesses suffer overcharges where a conspiracy to fix prices above competitive levels forces them to pay more than they would have paid but for the anticompetitive conduct. Businesses suffer lost profits through undercharges where a conspiracy among buyers artificially depresses prices below competitive levels. Businesses also lose profits when other businesses conspire to refuse to conduct business with them.

Specific antitrust violations that eliminate fair competition include:

  • Price-fixing – agreements by competitors as to what prices to charge or that they will not sell below a certain price
  • Customer-allocation agreements – arrangements among competitors to allocate customers, such as by geographic area, to reduce or eliminate competition
  • Predatory-pricing
  • Monopolization
  • Monopoly leveraging
  • Tying arrangements
  • Vertical restraints
  • Exclusive dealing and refusals to deal in business transactions (may occur in a merger or acquisition, a joint venture, or privatization, for example)

COMMON ANTICOMPETITION INDICATORS

Most often, illegal anticompetitive agreements are secretly entered. Enforcement of antitrust law requires vigilance on the part of businesses that are the victims of unfair conduct. Signs of anticompetitive behavior include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Evidence that two or more competing sellers of similar products have agreed to price their products a certain way;
    • Evidence that two or more competing sellers of similar products have agreed to sell only a limited amount of their product;
    • Evidence that two or more competing sellers of similar products have agreed to sell only in certain areas;
    • Evidence that two or more competing sellers of similar products have agreed to sell only to certain customers

Representations by a seller suggesting that only one firm can sell to a particular customer or type of customer;

  • Fewer competitors than are the norm submit bids on a contract;
  • Competitors submit identical bids;
  • For a certain product in a particular area, the same company repeatedly is the low bidder on contracts;
    • For a certain service in a particular area, the same company repeatedly is the low bidder on contracts;
    • Competitors appear to win bids on a fixed rotation;

Unusual and unexplainable significant differences in price between the winning bid and all other bids;

The same competitor bids substantially higher on certain similar bids than on others, and there is no logical cost-based reason that explains the difference;

  • Significant price changes that involve more than one seller of different brands of very similar products.

While these signs are not conclusive evidence of antitrust violations, they are strong indicators of anticompetitive conduct and require action on your part. Bonsignore Trial Lawyers will carry out a confidential investigation to determine whether antitrust litigation should be commenced. Call Robert Bonsignore at (781) 350-0000 or on his cell phone at (781) 856-7650 or fill out the form on the right.

REPORT AN ANTITRUST VIOLATION

Bonsignore Trial Lawyers antitrust lawyers will confidentially evaluate whether your business has suffered lost profits as a result of illegal anticompetitive conduct and also whether you have a viable antitrust claim. We will also advise you of all your related rights. We always investigate, evaluate and provide initial advice without charge. In most cases, Bonsignore Trial Lawyers will also prosecute your claims and enforce your rights on a contingency basis.

Call Robert Bonsignore at (781) 350-0000 or on his cell phone at (781) 856-7650 or fill out the form on the right.

HORIZONTAL AND VERTICAL ANTITRUST VIOLATIONS

Horizontal antitrust violations most often involve activities and agreements between competing manufacturers. Vertical antitrust violations most often involve activities and agreements between manufacturers and purchasers. The following outlines the basic business practices that violate antitrust laws:
Horizontal Agreements Among Competitors
Competing manufacturers can agree on standards for their products, how much they are going to manufacture and even how they are going to advertise. These agreements, however, cannot force competitors out of the market or wrongfully impact prices or competition. Improper agreements include:

  • Agreements on price
  • Agreements to restrict output
  • Boycotts
  • Market divisions
  • Restricted advertising
  • Codes of ethics
  • Restraints of other business practices

If you believe that you are a victim of unfair practices of anti-competitive behavior, or if you want more information about an antitrust case, please contact us for a free evaluation of your case. Click here for a confidential questionnaire or call Robert Bonsignore at (781) 350-0000 or on his cell phone at (781) 856-7650.

 

Vertical Agreements Between Buyers And Sellers
Many non-price related agreements between parties in a buyer/seller relationship have valid business justifications. Nevertheless, red flags are always raised where agreements are price-related

Improper agreements include:

  • Resale price maintenance agreements
  • Non-price agreements between manufacturer and dealer
  • Tie-in sales

If you believe that you are a victim of unfair practices of anti-competitive behavior, or if you want more information about an antitrust case, please contact us for a free evaluation of your case. Click here for a confidential questionnaire or call Robert Bonsignore at (781) 350-0000 or on his cell phone at (781) 856-7650.

COMMON ANTITRUST VIOLATIONS

The most common antitrust violations include bid rigging, price-fixing, unlawful, monopolization, and resale price maintenance.

Bid Rigging:
Bid rigging is when competitors enter into an agreement that ensures one party will win the bid for a contract. There are two types of illegal bid rigging: (1) competitors agree to bid at a certain price so that the other competitor will win, or (2) a contract is tailored so that a certain company will win a future bid.

Price-Fixing:
Price-fixing is a very common antitrust law violation. It occurs when competitors agree on the price they will charge for a product or service. The fact that competitors offer the same product or service at the same price does not mean that illegal price fixing is occurring. For example, one gasoline station may raise its prices in response to a price jump at the station across the street. Unless the two parties agreed upon that jump, no illegal conduct has occurred. Thus, it is the agreement to charge a certain price that is illegal.

Monopolization:
A “monopoly” exists when a large company has control over most, if not all, of a product or service in a particular industry or geographical area. “Monopolization” is the power exercised by that company. Monopoly is potentially dangerous because without competition, a company has complete control over the market price. Not all monopolies are unlawful. Some are economically efficient and do not harm consumers. For example, a company that builds a unique product that dominates a market because it is better, and not because the company took any illegal steps to become a monopoly, is legal. However, when companies take steps to obtain or maintain a monopoly, it may be illegal.

Resale Price Maintenance:
Resale price maintenance is describes an arrangement in which a manufacturer requires a store to sell its product at a specific price. The manufacturer may bar the store from selling the product if it does so at a lower price. Although such arrangements used to be illegal automatically, recent United States Supreme Court decisions establish a case-by-case review of each arrangement.

THE LAW

Competition law promotes or seeks to maintain market competition by regulating anticompetitive conduct by companies for the benefit of consumers. Competition law has its roots in the Roman Empire. Market traders, guilds and governments have always been scrutinized, and even severe sanctions imposed, for anticompetitive behavior. The move to enact competition laws began globally in the 20th century. The most extensive regulation systems exist in the United States and the European Union. There are also many other competition authorities across the world that have formed international support and enforcement networks. Antitrust laws prohibit one company with a major share of the market from keeping out competition. They also prohibit major players from combining resources or conspiring to keep out competition or to otherwise fix prices.

International competition is governed and protected by international agreements. In 1945, during the negotiations preceding the adoption of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (“GATT”), limited international competition obligations were proposed within the Charter for an International Trade Organization. These obligations were not included in GATT, but in 1994, the World Trade Organization was created and adopted an agreement addressing various cross-border competition issues in specific industries.

United States antitrust law is comprised of federal and state government laws that regulate the conduct and organization of business corporations to promote fair competition for the benefit of consumers. The main statutes are the Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. These acts restrict or prohibit three primary practices: (1) the formation of cartels and other collusive practices regarded as being in restraint of trade; (2) acquisitions of organizations that could substantially lessen competition; and (3) the creation of a monopoly and the abuse of monopoly power.

Private parties who are sufficiently affected and governmental entities, such as the Federal Trade Commission, the United States Department of Justice and state governments, may all bring court actions to enforce the antitrust laws.

PRIVATE SUITS
Companies or entities that suffer economic loss as a result of violations of state or federal antitrust laws may bring a private action to recoup their economic losses and prevent further unfair competition. The United States Supreme Court summarized why Congress has authorized private antitrust lawsuits in Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co. of Cal., 405 U.S. 251, 262 (1972):

Every violation of the antitrust laws is a blow to the free-enterprise system envisaged by Congress. This system depends on strong competition for its health and vigor, and strong competition depends, in turn, on compliance with antitrust legislation. In enacting these laws, Congress had many means at its disposal to penalize violators. It could have, for example, required violators to compensate federal, state, and local governments for the estimated damage to their respective economies caused by the violations. But, this remedy was not selected. Instead, Congress chose to permit all persons to sue to recover three times their actual damages every time they were injured in their business or property by an antitrust violation. By offering potential litigants the prospect of a recovery in three times the amount of their damages, Congress encouraged these persons to serve as “private attorneys general.”

There are various forms of relief available to businesses for losses caused by antitrust violations. Courts may order both monetary and injunctive relief, including penalties. An award of money damages may be trebled, or tripled, under the Sherman Act to encourage private litigation to enforce the laws and to deter wrongful behavior. As an example, if a company is sued for price fixing and the jury determines that consumers were overcharged $300,000 as a result, the damages awarded to the consumers will automatically be tripled to $900,000. In Bigelow v. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 327 U.S. 251 (1946), the United States Supreme Court stated that treble damages awarded under the Clayton Act §4 need not be mathematically precise, but may be based on a reasonable estimate of loss that is not speculative. Any penalties awarded will be based upon the size of the company or the business. A court may also break up businesses into competing parts under different owners, although this remedy has rarely been exercised.

Most corporations compete fairly, trusting that the quality of their products and innovations they bring to the market will win consumer support. When big business is unwilling to let the market decide their sales and engage in anti competitive acts and practices, we are prepared and to take steps to level the playing field and obtain restitution for consumers and business competitors.

The Bonsignore Trial Lawyers are committed to prosecuting antitrust cases for clients to ensure that markets remain competitive so that businesses and ultimately consumers can purchase the best possible goods and services at the lowest competitive prices. Our attorneys have extensive backgrounds in law, economics and complex litigation necessary to help consumers and businesses injured by violations of antitrust law.

If you believe that you are a victim of unfair practices of anti-competitive behavior, or if you want more information about an antitrust case, please contact us for a free evaluation of your case.

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