AGs in the News: Antitrust
AGs in the News: Antitrust
The FTC and Pennsylvania Attorney General have jointly filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania seeking to block Reading Health System’s proposed acquisition of the Surgical Institute of Reading (SIR), pending administrative review by the FTC. The complaint alleges that the acquisition would reduce competition in four markets in which the two entities compete, and would lead to the new entity controlling market shares from 49% to 71%.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has announced an investigation into hospital pricing and is considering whether to use antitrust laws or new legislation to address the problem. AG Cooper says that the problem may be a result of hospital consolidation and said that his office will speak with officials from the Federal Trade Commission and other states who have used antitrust laws to investigate consolidation. However, AG Cooper added that antitrust laws are difficult to enforce and that more effective might be new legislation designed to limit the effects of hospital mergers on pricing. A number of hospital systems in NC have grown rapidly in recent years, while small, rural hospitals are struggling financially and feeling pressure to join with larger hospital systems.
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen announced that the attorneys general of 54 states, districts, and territories had reached an antitrust settlement with three publishers of e-books. The publishers, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers and Simon & Schuster agreed to the settlement while Apple, Penguin Group and MacMillan have not settled. The attorneys general had filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York following a two-year antitrust investigation by the US Department of Justice and the attorneys general of Connecticut and Texas. The investigation found that the publishers had worked with Apple to set prices for e-books and limit the discount available for retailers to provide.
Salt-mining companies Cargill and Morton Salt coordinated over the past decade to keep road salt prices artificially high, resulting in prices up to $50 million above market prices, according to an antitrust lawsuit filed Wednesday by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. The two companies divided the Ohio market, covertly agreeing not to compete, submitting bids designed to conceal their conspiracy and to prevent competitors from obtaining state business. The lawsuit seeks an order severing the companies' contracts with the state, as well as repayment of their “ill-gotten gains” to the Ohio Department of Transportation and other agencies.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled
on Dec. 9 that state action doctrine immunized the hospital merger of Phoebe Putney Health System and Palmyra Park Hospital in Albany, Georgia from antitrust laws. Together the hospitals control 86 percent of the relevant market. The FTC argued that the merger would "cause consumers and employers in the Albany region to pay dramatically higher rates for vital health care services, and will likely reduce the quality and choice of services available in the community as well." The hospitals did not dispute the monopoly charge but argued instead that they were immune under the state-action doctrine. Memorial was not a private hospital but operated by a regional hospital authority, which the Georgia legislature authorized in a 1941 law. Thus, the court ruled, the issue was whether the state authorized the action for policy reasons that one would reasonably anticipate had a foreseeable anticompetitive effect.
New Jersey Attorney General, Paula T. Dow, announced the approval of the merger of St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network and Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg. The owner of Easton Hospital, Community Health Systems, had objected to the merger claiming to have offered a better deal. The merger must still be approved by the New Jersey Superior Court before it can be finalized.
The Williams Co.’s proposed purchase of natural gas conveyor Southern Union Co. could affect service to Central Florida and violate antitrust regulations. Because each firm owns natural gas pipelines that serve Central Florida, if Williams is successful in its acquisition it would have monopoly over both pipes. Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office has stated that it is monitoring the matter closely and will participate in a review by federal antitrust offices. In 2001, the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida attorney general's office blocked the sale of the planned Gulfstream Pipeline to the same company that owned the Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline.
9 States Subpoena AT&T, Sprint in Reviews of T-Mobile Bid
(July 12, 2011)
Sprint Nextel Corp has been subpoenaed by the states of Arizona Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, in connection with antitrust reviews. The states seek data on customer habits, including when consumers switch carriers, which would help their regulators evaluate the level of competition in their respective markets. James Donahue, a chief deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania, emphasizes that the state is currently taking in all of the information and no conclusions have been reached. Sprint was required to disclose the requests for information under terms of a protective order issued by the FCC, which is reviewing the transaction announced on March 20 in tandem with the Justice Department’s antitrust division.
New York Attorney Eric Schneiderman has expressed concerns that the National Football League’s lockout is threatening New York’s economy, and is reportedly investigating whether the lockout violates New York antitrust law. The lockout is the result of the failure to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement, which could lead to the shortening or cancellation of the entire season. Three teams—the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, and New York Jet—hold their training camps in New York, and thus the lockout could have an impact on the state’s economy. The lockout will be investigated under the Donnelly Act, which punishes conduct that harms competition, and allows for treble damages.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on Wednesday put out the call for law firms interested in taking on the BCS through a federal lawsuit that seeks to have the bowl series declared an illegal monopoly. The lawsuit will seek damages for so-called ‘non-BCS schools’ that have lost out on millions of dollars over the years because the existing system keeps such non-preferred conferences such as the Mountain West — Utah’s former conference home — at a competitive disadvantage, Shurtleff has said. He further remarked that antitrust violations involving taxpayer-funded institutions need to be examined, especially when many such institutions are hurting, raising tuition or asking for more general fund money to help sustain them.
Four States Join Texas AG in Launching Several Antitrust Inquiries into Google
(June 24, 2011)
Google is facing escalating antitrust pressure following the launch of several inquiries by California, New York, and Ohio into its potential threat to online search-engine competition. The inquires, which follow an investigation by the AG of Texas last year, come as federal authorities move close to a full-blown investigation of their own. The widening number of jurisdictions where Google is facing competition probes threatens to stretch its resources and distract its senior management in similar ways to Microsoft, a company that has similarly faced numerous inquiries over the past decade. The states that have recently joined the inquiries into Google are still at an early stage in their deliberations.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has fined UnitedHealth Group Inc. $1 million for violating an antitrust agreement with the state. According to the agreement, which set a penalty of $100,000 per intentional violation, UnitedHealth was allowed to acquire Sierra Health Services Inc. as long as it would not attempt to buy Fiserv Nevada. UnitedHealth, in violation of the agreement, acquired both companies, further reducing competition in Nevada. UnitedHealth asserts that it did not violation the agreement because the company did not acquire an interest in, or engage in a joint venture with Fiserv.