Antitrust Lawyer Blog

Commentary on Current Developments

The federal antitrust agencies continue their emphasis on investigating, challenging, and unwinding consummated transactions that are not reportable under the Hart Scott Rodino (“HSR”) Act.

Most recently, on November 6, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued an Opinion and Final Order in which the Commission upheld the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision that Otto Bock HealthCare North America, Inc.’s (“Otto Bock”) acquisition of FIH Group Holdings, LLC (“Freedom”) was anticompetitive and that Otto Bock must divest Freedom’s entire business with the limited exceptions granted by the ALJ.  The Commission’s order was approved by all five commissioners and continues the trend of unwinding consummated acquisitions that are deemed to be anticompetitive.

Accordingly, buyers must be aware of the risks of closing a non-reportable transaction that eliminates competition.  Here are a couple of points to keep in mind:

On September 12, 2019, a coalition of unions, consumer groups, and public interest organizations filed a letter with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) opposing AbbVie Inc.’s (“AbbVie”) acquisition of Allergan plc (“Allergan”).

Coalition Opposing the Merger

The coalition includes Families USA, Public Citizen, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, UNITE HERE, Consumer Action, American Federation of Teachers, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Family Voices, Doctors for America, End AIDS Now, Prescription Justice, Social Security Works, the Other 98, Treatment Action Group, and NextGen California.  It is asking the FTC to conduct a thorough investigation and to block the merger if the facts support it and a remedy cannot be devised to restore competition.  The coalition highlights the competitive problems arising from continued consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry and requests that the FTC include in its investigation ongoing anticompetitive conduct by the parties, such as the use of rebate walls, which will have an even more profound anticompetitive effect if this merger is consolidated, as well as past abuse of the patent system.

The STRONGER Patents Act is proposed legislation that if passed would ultimately lead to higher drug prices for patients while lining the pockets of the big pharmaceutical companies.

American patients are well-acquainted with the high prices Big Pharma charges for prescription drugs. Families across the country are struggling to afford life-saving and maintaining medication they desperately need while the big pharmaceutical companies reap the rewards.  In fact, prescription drug prices here in the United States are so high that Americans pay significantly more than any other high-income nation for the exact same drugs.

A significant reason that drug prices are so high is that Big Pharma has established effective monopolies by preventing and delaying generic drug competition. Big Pharma has many techniques they use to prevent and delay competition and keep drug prices high, but their most pervasive and damaging tool is the abuse of America’s patent system.

On September 4, 2019, the DOJ filed an antitrust lawsuit in the Northern District of Ohio to block Novelis Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Aleris Corporation.

Complaint

The DOJ alleges that the acquisition would substantially lessen competition in the North American market for rolled aluminum sheet for automotive applications, commonly referred to as aluminum auto body sheet.  The complaint explains that steel companies are developing lighter, high strength steel varieties for the auto industry. But as Novelis has observed, high strength steel “is largely replacing existing mild steel” and “cannibalizing the existing material” (i.e., traditional steel). The threat of substitution from aluminum to high strength steel is, as Aleris confirms, “limited.”  The price of aluminum auto body sheet is three or four times more expensive than traditional steel.  The complaint further alleges that the transaction would combine two of only four North American producers of aluminum auto body sheet.  The other two suppliers’ capacity is mostly committed to automakers.  Thus, other automakers rely on Novelis and Aleris to produce aluminum body sheet for automobiles to make cars lighter, more fuel-efficient, safer and more durable.

On August 27, 2019, two U.S. senators asked the DOJ to investigate the state of competition in the ticketing business, and to extend the DOJ’s consent agreement with Live Nation Entertainment (“Live Nation”), the industry giant that owns Ticketmaster.

Background

In a letter to Makan Delrahim, the head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) described the ticket industry as “broken” and they lamented the “exorbitant fees and inadequate disclosures” in the ticket buying process.

On August 20, 2019, the DOJ filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware seeking to block Sabre Corporation’s (“Sabre”) $360 million acquisition of Farelogix, Inc. (“Farelogix”).

Complaint

The DOJ alleges that Sabre and Farelogix compete head-to-head to provide booking services to airlines.  Booking services are IT solutions that allow airlines to sell tickets and ancillary products through traditional brick-and-mortar and online travel agencies to the traveling public.  The DOJ alleges that the acquisition would eliminate competition that has substantially benefited airlines and consumers in both the traditional and online markets.  The complaint further alleges that the transaction would allow Sabre, the largest booking services provider in the United States, to eliminate a disruptive competitor that has introduced new technology to the travel industry and is poised to grow significantly.

On August 20, 2019, it was reported that the states are set to join forces to investigate Big Tech.

On the same day, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) said the DOJ is working with a group of more than a dozen state attorneys general as it investigates the market power of major technology companies.  Delrahim said at a tech conference that the government is studying acquisitions by major tech companies that were previously approved as part of a broad antitrust review announced in July of major tech firms with significant market power.  “Those are some of the questions that are being raised… whether those were nascent competitors that may or may not have been wise to approve,” he said.

On July 23, the DOJ said it was opening a broad investigation into whether major digital technology firms engaged in anticompetitive practices, including concerns raised about “search, social media, and some retail services online.”  The investigations appear to be focused on Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Amazon.com, Inc. and Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”), as well as potentially Apple Inc.

On August 2, 2019, the FTC authorized an enforcement action to challenge Evonik Industries AG’s (“Evonik”) proposed $625 million acquisition of PeroxyChem Holding Company (“PeroxyChem”).

Complaint

The FTC is alleging the merger of the chemical companies would substantially reduce competition in the Pacific Northwest and the Southern and Central United States for the production and sale of hydrogen peroxide, a commodity chemical used for oxidation, disinfection, and bleaching.

On June 20, 2019 the Office of the United States Trade Representative (“USTR”) announced an exclusion process for tariffs imposed on September 2018 (“List 3”) pursuant to the U.S. Section 301 action against China. This announcement was followed by a notice published in the Federal Register. Through this exclusion process, parties will be able to request that USTR exclude specific products from the twenty-five percent tariff currently scheduled to apply to List 3 products under the Harmonized Schedule. While exclusion rounds for Lists 1 and 2 are closed, the exclusion process for List 3 products will begin on June 30, 2019 and will be administered through an electronic portal available at  https://exclusions.ustr.gov (portal will open on June 30, 2019). Copies of the exclusion forms are currently available online so interested parties can begin reviewing the necessary forms.

Background on Section 301 Tariffs

A Section 301 investigation, conducted by USTR, revealed that numerous unreasonable or discriminatory Chinese laws and practices relating to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation are adversely affecting U.S. businesses. The investigation found that:

On May 30, 2019 President Trump announced via Twitter that the United States (U.S.) will impose tariffs on Mexican imports to prompt Mexico to significantly reduce immigration to the U.S.  President Trump will impose these additional tariffs in the context of rapidly increasing immigration from Mexico to the U.S. over the past months.

In declaring these new tariffs, President Trump relied on powers that Congress delegated to the president under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) of 1977.   Congress enacted this statute to provide the president with the necessary authority to restrict transactions between U.S. persons and foreign entities located outside the U.S. that pose threats to U.S. national security interests.  Therefore, the president typically invokes IEEPA in sanctions matters (e.g. the Iranian, Syrian, and North Korean sanctions programs) and export control matters (e.g. regulations regarding transferring control of sensitive technology and information from a U.S. person to a foreign person).

The absence of language in IEEPA referring to “tariffs” or “immigration” combined with the stark contrast between this current invocation and past invocations of IEEPA have lead some scholars to believe that the use of this statute for imposing additional tariffs on Mexican imports may be illegal.  Members of President Trump’s own political party have expressed similar beliefs. For instance, Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator on the U.S. Finance Committee, has publically supported this view by saying that President Trump has exceeded his authority.