Motion and Memorandum of the United States in Support of Entry of Final Judgment
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
THE UNITED STATES IN SUPPORT OF ENTRY OF FINAL JUDGMENT
Pursuant to Section 2(b) of the Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act, 15 U.S.C.§ 16(b)-(h) ("APPA"), plaintiffs, the United States of America ("United States") and the State of Missouri and the State of Nebraska ("the states"), move for entry of the proposed Final Judgment filed in this civil antitrust proceeding. The proposed Final Judgment may be entered at this time without further hearing if the Court determines that entry is in the public interest. The Competitive Impact Statement ("CIS"), filed in this matter on January 20, 2010, explains why entry of the proposed Final Judgment would be in the public interest. The Plaintiffs are filing simultaneously with this Motion and Memorandum a Certificate of Compliance setting forth the steps taken by the parties to comply with all applicable provisions of the APPA and certifying that the statutory waiting period has expired.
On November 30, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a civil antitrust Complaint alleging that the proposed acquisition of MedServe, Inc. by Stericycle, Inc. would substantially lessen competition in the provision of infectious waste collection and treatment services for large quantity generator ("LQG") customers in the states of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 18, as amended.
Infectious waste is one of three types of regulated medical waste. Infectious waste is waste that comes into contact with bodily fluids and "sharps" waste, such as syringes and scalpels. The other two are pathological waste, which is anatomical parts, and trace chemotherapy, which are small amounts of chemical compounds used to treat cancer patients and the equipment used to administer the compounds. Infectious waste comprises approximately 90 percent of the regulated medical waste generated in the United States. State and federal governments heavily regulate the collection and treatment of regulated medical waste.
LQG customers typically are hospitals, large laboratories and other large medical facilities that generate large amounts of infectious waste, and LQG customers require that service providers must be capable of collecting and treating large amounts of infectious waste on a daily basis. In addition, providers must meet strict standards to ensure that they have sufficient technical capability, knowledge, and financial resources to minimize the possibility that the waste might be mishandled and provide substantial liability insurance in the event of an accident.
The complaint alleges that Stericycle and MedServe are each other's only rival for the provision of infectious waste collection and treatment services to LQG customers in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. The Complaint further alleges that, if Stericycle's proposed acquisition of MedServe were to occur, Stericycle would become the monopoly provider of infectious waste collection and treatment services for LQG customers in these states. Accordingly, the complaint sought to permanently enjoin the proposed acquisition by requesting a judgment that the acquisition violated Section 7 of the Clayton Act.
At the same time the Complaint was filed, the United States filed a Hold Separate Stipulation and Order ("Hold Separate Order") and a proposed Final Judgment, which are designed to eliminate the anticompetitive effects of the acquisition, and a CIS. The Court signed and entered the Hold Separate Order on December 1, 2009. The proposed Final Judgment requires Stericycle, within 90 days after the filing of the Complaint, or five days after notice of the entry of the Final Judgment by the Court, whichever is later, to divest the assets currently used by MedServe in the provision of infectious waste collection and treatment services to LQG customers in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma ("Divestiture Assets") to an acquirer acceptable to the United States in its sole discretion after consultation with the states. (1) Under the terms of the proposed Final Judgment, if Stericycle has not sold the Divestiture Assets within the prescribed time, this Court would appoint a trustee to sell the Divestiture Assets. The Hold Separate Order and the proposed Final Judgment required Stericycle to preserve, maintain and continue to operate the Divestiture Assets in the ordinary course of business, including reasonable efforts to maintain and increase sales and revenues. The CIS explains the basis for the Complaint and the reasons why entry of the proposed Final Judgment would be in the public interest.
The Hold Separate Order provides that the proposed Final Judgment may be entered by the Court after the completion of the procedures required by the APPA. Entry of the proposed Final Judgment would terminate this action, except that the Court would retain jurisdiction to construe, modify, or enforce the provisions of the proposed Final Judgment and to punish violations thereof.
II. Compliance with the APPA
The APPA requires a sixty-day period for the submission of public comments on a proposed Final Judgment. See 15 U.S.C. § 16(b). In compliance with the APPA, the United States filed the CIS on January 20, 2010; published the proposed Final Judgment and CIS in the Federal Register on February 1, 2010 (see United States, et al. v. Stericycle, Inc., et al, 75 Fed. Reg. 5120); and published summaries of the terms of the proposed Final Judgment and CIS, together with directions for the submission of written comments relating to the proposed Final Judgment, in The Washington Post for seven days beginning on February 7, 2010 and ending on February 13, 2010. The sixty-day public comment period terminated on April 14, 2010; the United States received no public comments. Simultaneously with this Motion and Memorandum, the United States is filing a Certificate of Compliance that states all the requirements of the APPA have been satisfied. It is now appropriate for the Court to make the public interest determination required by 15 U.S.C. § 16(e) and to enter the proposed Final Judgment.
III. Standard of Judicial Review
The Clayton Act, as amended by the APPA, requires that proposed consent judgments in antitrust cases brought by the United States be subject to a sixty-day comment period, after which the court shall determine whether entry of the proposed Final Judgment "is in the public interest." 15 U.S.C. § 16(e)(1). In making that determination in accordance with the statute, the court is required to consider:
(A) the competitive impact of such judgment, including termination of alleged violations, provisions for enforcement and modification, duration of relief sought, anticipated effects of alternative remedies actually considered, whether its terms are ambiguous, and any other competitive considerations bearing upon the adequacy of such judgment that the court deems necessary to a determination of whether the consent judgment is in the public interest; and
(B) the impact of entry of such judgment upon competition in the relevant market or markets, upon the public generally and individuals alleging specific injury from the violations set forth in the complaint including consideration of the public benefit, if any, to be derived from a determination of the issues at trial.
15 U.S.C. § 16(e)(1)(A)-(B). In considering these statutory factors, the court's inquiry is necessarily a limited one as the government is entitled to "broad discretion to settle with the defendant within the reaches of the public interest." United States v. Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d 1448, 1461 (D.C. Cir. 1995); see generally United States v. SBC Commc'ns, Inc., 489 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2007) (assessing public interest standard under the Tunney Act); United States v. InBev N.V./S.A., 2009-2 Trade Cas. (CCH) ¶76,736, No. 08-1965 (JR), 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84787, at *3 (D.D.C. Aug. 11, 2009) (noting that the court's review of a consent judgment is limited and only inquires "into whether the government's determination that the proposed remedies will cure the antitrust violations alleged in the complaint was reasonable, and whether the mechanism to enforce the final judgment are clear and manageable.").
As the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has held, under the APPA a court considers, among other things, the relationship between the remedy secured and the specific allegations set forth in the government's complaint, whether the decree is sufficiently clear, whether enforcement mechanisms are sufficient, and whether the decree may positively harm third parties. See Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1458-62. With respect to the adequacy of the relief secured by the decree, a court may not "engage in an unrestricted evaluation of what relief would best serve the public." United States v. BNS, Inc., 858 F.2d 456, 462 (9th Cir. 1988) (citing United States v. Bechtel Corp., 648 F.2d 660, 666 (9th Cir. 1981)); see also Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1460-62; United States v. Alcoa, Inc., 152 F. Supp. 2d 37, 40 (D.D.C. 2001); InBev, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84787, at *3. Courts have held that:
[t]he balancing of competing social and political interests affected by a proposed antitrust consent decree must be left, in the first instance, to the discretion of the Attorney General. The court's role in protecting the public interest is one of insuring that the government has not breached its duty to the public in consenting to the decree. The court is required to determine not whether a particular decree is the one that will best serve society, but whether the settlement is "within the reaches of the public interest." More elaborate requirements might undermine the effectiveness of antitrust enforcement by consent decree.
Bechtel, 648 F.2d at 666 (emphasis added) (citations omitted). (2) In determining whether a proposed settlement is in the public interest, the court "must accord deference to the government's predictions about the efficacy of its remedies, and may not require that the remedies perfectly match the alleged violations." SBC Commc'ns, 489 F. Supp. 2d at 17; see also Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1461 (noting the need for courts to be "deferential to the government's predictions as to the effect of the proposed remedies"); United States v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., 272 F. Supp. 2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2003) (noting that the court should grant due respect to the United States's prediction as to the effect of proposed remedies, its perception of the market structure, and its views of the nature of the case).
Courts have greater flexibility in approving proposed consent decrees than in crafting their own decrees following a finding of liability in a litigated matter. "[A] proposed decree must be approved even if it falls short of the remedy the court would impose on its own, as long as it falls within the range of acceptability or is 'within the reaches of public interest.'" United States v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 552 F. Supp. 131, 151 (D.D.C. 1982) (citations omitted) (quoting United States v. Gillette Co., 406 F. Supp. 713, 716 (D. Mass. 1975)), aff'd sub nom. Maryland v. United States, 460 U.S. 1001 (1983); see also United States v. Alcan Aluminum Ltd., 605 F. Supp. 619, 622 (W.D. Ky. 1985) (approving the consent decree even though the court would have imposed a greater remedy). Therefore, the United States "need only provide a factual basis for concluding that the settlements are reasonably adequate remedies for the alleged harms." SBC Commc'ns, 489 F. Supp. 2d at 17.
Moreover, the court's role under the APPA is limited to reviewing the remedy in relationship to the violations that the United States has alleged in its Complaint, and does not authorize the court to "construct [its] own hypothetical case and then evaluate the decree against that case." Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1459; see also InBev, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84787, at *20 ("the 'public interest' is not to be measured by comparing the violations alleged in the complaint against those the court believes could have, or even should have, been alleged"). Because the "court's authority to review the decree depends entirely on the government's exercising its prosecutorial discretion by bringing a case in the first place," it follows that "the court is only authorized to review the decree itself," and not to "effectively redraft the complaint" to inquire into other matters that the United States did not pursue. Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1459-60. Asthis Court confirmed in SBC Communications, courts "cannot look beyond the complaint in making the public interest determination unless the complaint is drafted so narrowly as to make a mockery of judicial power." 489 F. Supp. 2d at 15.
In its 2004 amendments to the Tunney Act, (3) Congress made clear its intent to preserve the practical benefits of utilizing consent decrees in antitrust enforcement, stating: "[n]othing in this section shall be construed to require the court to conduct an evidentiary hearing or to require the court to permit anyone to intervene." 15 U.S.C. § 16(e)(2). The language wrote into the statute what Congress intended when it enacted the Tunney Act in 1974, as Senator Tunney explained: "[t]he court is nowhere compelled to go to trial or to engage in extended proceedings which might have the effect of vitiating the benefits of prompt and less costly settlement through the consent decree process." 119 Cong. Rec. 24,598 (1973) (statement of Senator Tunney). Rather, the procedure for the public interest determination is left to the discretion of the court, with the recognition that the court's "scope of review remains sharply proscribed by precedent and the nature of Tunney Act proceedings." SBC Commc'ns, 489 F. Supp. 2d at 11. (4)
Plaintiffs alleged in their Complaint that the acquisition of MedServe by Stericycle would substantially lessen competition in the provision of infectious waste collection and treatment services for LQG customers in the states of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. The remedy in the proposed Final Judgment resolves the alleged competitive effects entirely by requiring Stericycle to divest the Divestiture Assets to a viable purchaser approved by the United States after consultation with the states. Moreover, the public, including affected competitors and customers, has had the opportunity to comment on the proposed Final Judgment as required by law, and no comments have been submitted. There has been no showing that the proposed settlement constitutes an abuse of the United States's discretion or that it is not within the zone of settlements consistent with the public interest.
For the reasons set forth in this Motion and Memorandum and in the CIS, the Court should find that the proposed Final Judgment is in the public interest and should enter the Final Judgment without further hearings. The United States respectfully requests that the Final Judgment attached hereto be entered as soon as possible.
Dated: April _29__, 2010
1. The defendants are scheduled to complete the divestiture of the Divestiture Assets on May 1, 2010.
2. Cf. BNS, 858 F.2d at 464 (holding that the court's "ultimate authority under the [APPA] is limited to approving or disapproving the consent decree"); United States v. Gillette Co., 406 F. Supp. 713, 716 (D. Mass. 1975) (noting that, in this way, the court is constrained to "look at the overall picture not hypercritically, nor with a microscope, but with an artist's reducing glass"). See generally Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1461 (discussing whether "the remedies [obtained in the decree are] so inconsonant with the allegations charged as to fall outside of the 'reaches of the public interest'").
3. The 2004 amendments substituted the word "shall" for "may" when directing the courts to consider the enumerated factors and amended the list of factors to focus on competitive considerations and address potentially ambiguous judgment terms. Compare 15 U.S.C. § 16(e) (2004), with 15 U.S.C. § 16(e)(1) (2006); see also SBC Commc'ns, 489 F. Supp. 2d at 11 (concluding that the 2004 amendments "effected minimal changes" to Tunney Act review).
4. See United States v. Enova Corp., 107 F. Supp. 2d 10, 17 (D.D.C. 2000) (noting that the "Tunney Act expressly allows the court to make its public interest determination on the basis of the competitive impact statement and response to comments alone"); United States v. Mid-Am. Dairymen, Inc., 1977-1 Trade Cas. (CCH) ¶ 61,508, at 71,980 (W.D. Mo. 1977) ("Absent a showing of corrupt failure of the government to discharge its duty, the Court, in making its public interest finding, should . . . carefully consider the explanations of the government in the competitive impact statement and its responses to comments in order to determine whether those explanations are reasonable under the circumstances."); S. Rep. No. 93-298, 93d Cong., 1st Sess., at 6 (1973) ("Where the public interest can be meaningfully evaluated simply on the basis of briefs and oral arguments, that is the approach that should be utilized.").