Antitrust Lawyer Blog Commentary on Current Developments

Articles Tagged with FTC

On May 13, 2016, the FTC approved a merger American Air Liquide Holdings, Inc. and Airgas, Inc. as long as the parties divest certain production and distribution assets to settle the FTC’s allegations that their proposed merger likely would have harmed competition and led to higher prices in several U.S. and regional markets.

Competitive Problem

According to the FTC’s complaint, the deal would eliminate direct competition between the two companies in certain markets that are already concentrated, increasing the likelihood that Air Liquide could unilaterally exercise market power.  The FTC’s complaint also alleged that the proposed acquisition would also make it more likely that remaining competitors, if any, could collude or coordinate their actions.  The FTC also alleged that entry was not likely happen quick enough to sufficiently counteract any anticompetitive price increases.  As a result, customers would likely pay higher prices for industrial gases in various regional and national markets within the United States.

On Monday, October 26, 2015, in a joint statement, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice urged the state of Virginia to reform or repeal its certificate-of-need (CON) law.

CON laws typically require hospitals to obtain government approval before undergoing expansion projects or purchasing major assets, including hospital equipment.  Virginia is known to have one of the most restrictive CON laws in the country, and the antitrust enforcement agencies recently have addressed the possible negative effects such laws have on competition, stating that CON laws may impede on healthcare providers’ abilities to provide efficient and effective services for consumers and may hinder competition by creating barriers to entry, limiting consumer choice, and stifling innovation.

In the joint statement, the enforcement agencies cited several studies that show that CON laws have not been effective at controlling costs or improving quality for consumers and indicated that more targeted measures might better address such goals.  While Virginia has an established working group tasked with addressing the issues surrounding CON laws, no final decisions have been made on the status of the state’s current CON law.

On Monday, October 26, 2015, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) Chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, requesting that the FTC investigate possible illegal collusion by saline solution manufacturers.

In their letter, the senators noted that there has been a shortage of saline solution in the United States since 2013 and that the three companies that provide all the saline solution for the United States, Baxter, Hospira, and B. Braun, have failed to end the shortage.  The senators further claim that such activity may be the result of collusive behavior by the manufacturing companies to exploit the shortage of saline solution to increase their own profits and that this activity has resulted in higher costs to hospitals, patients, and the overall healthcare system.  The letter also states that hospitals have reported that Baxter, Hospira, and B. Braun have each imposed greater price increases (200-300%) since the shortage began.  The senators also state that the manufacturers on saline solution customers who do not also purchase additional non-saline products, effectively claiming that the manufacturers may be illegally tying the products.

Given the rising costs of healthcare, the FTC should ensure that anticompetitive conduct does not further increase those costs.  Therefore, the senators urge the FTC to investigate the troubling allegations to determine whether the saline suppliers’ apparent anticompetitive conduct is harming consumers and running afoul of the antitrust laws.

On August 4, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued its Best Practices for Merger Investigations.  The Best Practices provide guidance to merging parties on steps they can work cooperatively with the staff by engaging in early discussions, determining effectively when to pull and refile an HSR notification form, narrowing Second Requests, engage in a quick look review and modify Second Requests. 

Engage the Staff Early

The FTC guidance encourages merging parties to engage the staff early during the initial waiting period or even before the HSR filing.  Antitrust counsel should provide strategic plans, product catalogs, top 10 customer lists, competitor information, market shares, helpful ordinary course of business documents and anything else pertinent to the potential competitive issues.  Most of this information would be requested in a voluntary access letter anyway so providing these materials in advance of a request may preempt a prolonged investigation or save time by helping the staff narrow the areas of concern.

On May 29, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued an administrative complaint alleging that Steris Corporation’s (“Steris”) proposed $1.9 billion acquisition of Synergy Health plc (“Synergy”) would violate the antitrust laws by significantly reducing future competition in regional markets for sterilization of products using radiation, particularly gamma or x-ray radiation.

Background

On October 13, 2014, Steris, headquartered in Mentor, Ohio, announced its intention to acquire Synergy, headquartered in the United Kingdom.  On January 9, 2015, the parties received request for additional information and documentary material (“second requests”).  On April 30, 2015, the parties announced that they certified compliance and entered into a timing agreement where they agreed to close the combination before June 2, 2015, unless the FTC closes the investigation before June 2nd.

On March 13, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced revisions to its rules regarding the FTC’s process of determining whether to continue on with an administrative challenge to a merger in the situation when it loses a preliminary injunction motion in federal court.

When the FTC seeks to challenge a transaction, the FTC generally seeks a preliminary injunction in federal court to prevent consummation of the transaction pending the outcome of an internal administrative trial.  If the injunction is implemented, it prevents the parties from integrating the assets until the conclusion of the administrative proceeding.  The preliminary injunction is important as it preserves the FTC’s ability to create an effective merger remedy in the event the FTC’s Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) finds that the merger violates the antitrust laws.

Under new changes to Commission Rule of Practice 3.26, if the FTC loses its request for an injunction, the pending administrative proceeding will be automatically withdrawn or stayed if the parties file a motion to have the administrative case withdrawn.  If all respondents move to have the administrative case withdrawn from adjudication, it will automatically be withdrawn two days after the motion is filed.  If any motion to dismiss the administrative complaint is filed, the administrative case will automatically be stayed until seven days after the Commission rules on the motion for dismissal.  All deadlines will be tolled for the amount of time the proceeding is stayed.  While the automatic withdrawal of the complaint and stay are characterized as new changes to FTC rules, the changes to Rule 3.26 actually reinstate the long standing practice of an automatic withdrawal from, or stay of, the administrative litigation that was in place until 2009.