UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
At Wilmington this 30th day of March, 2001, consistent with the memorandum opinion issued this same day;
IT IS ORDERED that:
1. Dentsply's motions for summary judgment on the merits of the antitrust causes of action are denied. (C.A. No. 99-005, D.I. 230; C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 130; C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 45)
2. Dentsply's motion for summary judgment against the Hess plaintiffs on standing grounds (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 133) is granted to the extent that the Hess plaintiffs seek damages. The motion is denied to the extent that the Hess plaintiffs seek injunctive relief.
3. Dentsply's motion for summary judgment against the Kaminer plaintiffs on standing grounds (C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 51) is granted.
4. Dentspiy's motions for summary judgment against the Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs on statute of limitations grounds (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 135; C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 48) are denied.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
Carl Schnee, United States Attorney and Judith M. Kinney, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, Wilmington, Delaware. William E. Berlin, Esquire and Jon B. Jacobs, Esquire of the United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, Washington, D.C.
Pamela S. Tikellis, Esquire and Robert J. Kriner, Esquire of Chimicles & Tikellis, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for plaintiffs Howard Hess Dental Laboratories et al. Thomas A. Dubbs, Esquire and Hollis L. Salzman, Esquire of Goodkind Labaton Rudoff & Sucharow, New York, New York. Of counsel for plaintiffs Howard Hess Dental Laboratories et al.
Neal J. Levitsky, Esquire of Agostini, Levitsky, Isaacs & Kulesza, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for plaintiffs Amnon Kaminer et al. Sigmund S. Wissner-Gross, Esquire, May Orenstein, Esquire, and Allen M. Eisenberg, Esquire of Heller, Horowitz & Feit, New York, New York. Of counsel for plaintiffs Amnon Kaminer et al.
James P. Hughes, Esquire and John W. Shaw, Esquire of Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for defendant Dentsply International, Inc. Margaret M. Zwisler, Esquire, Richard A. Ripley, Esquire, Kelly A. Clement, Esquire, Eric J. McCarthy, Esquire, and David P. Burns, Esquire of Howrey Simon Arnold & White, Washington, D.C. Of counsel for defendant Dentsply International, Inc.
Dated: March 30, 2001
Plaintiff United States of America ("the government") filed an antitrust action against Dentsply International Inc. ("Dentsply") on January 5, 1999. Dentsply makes and sells artificial teeth and other dental merchandise. The government generally alleges that Dentsply uses anticompetitive tactics to keep its competitors from entering the artificial tooth market.
Plaintiff Howard Hess Dental Laboratories, Inc. and Philip Guittierez d/b/a Dentures Plus (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Hess plaintiffs") filed an antitrust class action against Dentsply on April 21, 1999. The Hess plaintiffs are dental laboratories. Plaintiffs Amnon Kaminer, Frieda Simon, and Lorraine Goldsmith (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Kaminer plaintiffs") filed another class action against Dentsply in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on behalf of a consumer class.1 Dentsply removed that action on diversity grounds to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which transferred the action to this court on November 29, 1999 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
In its suit, the government specifically alleges that Dentsply 1) acted unlawfully to maintain a monopoly in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2; 2) entered into unlawful restrictive dealing agreements that substantially lessen competition in violation of § 3 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 14; and 3) entered into unlawful agreements in unreasonable restraint of interstate trade and commerce in violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. As a result, the government seeks injunctive relief and costs.
The Hess plaintiffs in their case allege the same three antitrust violations as the government. In addition to injunctive relief, the Hess plaintiffs seek compensatory and treble damages for the alleged violations.
The Kaminer plaintiffs in their suit seek compensatory and treble damages for alleged violations of the antitrust laws of sixteen states and the District of Columbia.
Dentsply is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in York, Pennsylvania. Dentsply transacts business in and is found within this district. Thus, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 22.
Currently before the court are Dentsply's motions for summary judgment on the merits of the antitrust causes of action. (C.A. No. 99-005, D.I. 230; C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 130; C.A. No. 99-654, D.I. 45)2 Also before the court are Dentsply's motions for summary judgment against the Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs based on standing and statute of limitations grounds. (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 133, 135; C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 48, 51)
This case focuses on the manufacture and sale of artificial teeth in the United States. Artificial teeth are marketed to dentists and dental laboratories for use in the fabrication of dentures. As a result of the need to match variances in the teeth in a human mouth, artificial teeth are manufactured in thousands of shade and mould3 combinations. They are sold on a card of six anterior or eight posterior teeth of the same shade and mould. Thus, a full denture (one that replaces all natural teeth) requires 28 teeth and four cards. Partial dentures are constructed when only a few teeth need replacement. (D.I. 231 at 3)
Generally, the process of constructing a denture begins with the dentist, who writes a denture "prescription" that specifies size, shape, and color requirements for the teeth in the denture appliance and sends it to a dental laboratory for fabrication. The dental laboratories purchase artificial teeth from dental product dealers, from artificial teeth manufacturers, or from other dental laboratories. (Id. at 3-4) The dental product dealers purchase artificial teeth from manufacturers such as Dentsply, Vita Zahnfabrik H. Rauter GmbH & Co. KG ("Vita"), and Ivoclar AG ("Ivoclar")). (D.I. 244 at 3)
The relevant market for purposes of this action is the sale of prefabricated, artificial teeth in the United States.4 (D.I. 1 ¶5) Dentsply is the world's leading manufacturer of dental prosthetics and other dental products. Its Trubyte Division sells, among other things, the artificial teeth used by dental laboratories to make dentures and other removable dental prosthetics. (Id.) Dentsply distributes its teeth exclusively through dental laboratory dealers. (D.I. 231 at 7)
The government alleges that Dentsply has maintained a market share in the artificial tooth market of 70% to 80% for the past ten years. (D.I. 1, ¶ 7) Dentsply distributes its artificial teeth through approximately 30 dental laboratory dealers ("Trubyte dealers") with 200 branch outlets. Dentsply and the Trubyte dealers are not bound by a written contractual agreement. Trubyte dealers purchase teeth on a purchase order basis.
In 1995, Dentsply distributed its teeth through approximately 37 dental laboratory dealers with 238 branch outlets. (D.I. 233 at A-276-79). At that time, there were 344 "dental dealers" according to the Twenty-third Annual Directory of U.S. Dental Dealers. (Id. at A-280-311) Five years later, Dentsply distributed Trubyte teeth to only 30 dealers with 200 branch outlets. (Id. at A-312-27; D.I. 234 at A-534)
Dentsply's biggest competitors are Vita and Ivoclar. Vita is a German company that manufactures and sells premium teeth throughout the world. Vita distributes its teeth in the United States through Vident, Inc. ("Vident"). Vident uses approximately 15 non-Trubyte subdealers to distribute Vita teeth. (D.I. 236 at A-1014-15) Ivoclar is a Liechtenstein company that manufactures and sells artificial tooth lines throughout the world. In the United States, Ivoclar promotes, sells, and distributes teeth through Ivoclar NA, its wholly-owned subsidiary. (D.I. 231 at 11) Ivoclar distributes its teeth directly to dental laboratories and has attempted to sell teeth through dental laboratory dealers. (D.I. 245 at B-1129) Other smaller competitors include Universal Dental Company, Austenal, Inc., and Heraeus Kulzer GmbH. (D.I. 231 at 16-18)
The Hess plaintiffs represent a putative class of dental laboratories seeking money damages and injunctive relief. In their complaint, the Hess plaintiffs allege that they purchased Trubyte teeth from a Dentsply dental laboratory dealer at artificially high prices caused by Dentsply's unlawful restraint of trade and monopolization. (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 1, ¶ 4) The Hess plaintiffs purport to represent "all dental laboratory purchasers of any Dentsply products who purchased such products through Dentsply dealers .... Excluded from the Plaintiff Class are . . . any co-conspirator[s] of the defendant . . . ." (Id., ¶ 10)
The named Hess plaintiffs purchased artificial teeth from dental laboratory dealers and, therefore, are indirect purchasers. The dental laboratory dealers, on the other hand, are the direct purchasers. In their opposition to Dentsply's motions for summary judgment, the Hess plaintiffs claim that some dental laboratories purchase artificial teeth from Dentsply. (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 151 at 44) This is done in one of two ways. First, Dentsply "drop ships" teeth to laboratories at the request of its dealers. Drop shipping occurs when a laboratory places an order with its dealer, which the dealer cannot fill out of its existing inventory. (D.I. 256 at C-13) The dealer sends the order, along with its dealer purchase order number, to Dentsply and directs Dentsply to ship the teeth directly to the laboratory. Dentsply then charges the dealer for the shipment. (Id.) The second way that laboratories "directly" purchase teeth from Dentsply is through the Dentsply Order Network ("DON"). The DON is an internet-based system that allows laboratories to order products by scanning a bar code of the product it wants. (Id. at C-139) That information goes to a network communications company who sends the order to the dealer selected by the laboratory.5 (Id. at C-148) The laboratory then fills the order just as if it received it on the telephone.
The Kaminer plaintiffs represent a putative class comprised of
[a]ll individuals and entities who purchased false teeth manufactured by [Dentsply], from entities or persons other than [Dentsply] in New York, Alabama, California, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
(C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 1, Ex. A, ¶ 40) Although the class covers all indirect purchasers6, the named plaintiffs are residents of New York who purchased dentures in New York from New York dentists. (C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 64, Ex. C at 6; Ex. D at 6) The Kaminer plaintiffs allege that Dentsply has restrained trade in the United States market for prefabricated artificial teeth in violation of New York Gen. Bus. Law § 340 and the indirect antitrust laws of fifteen states and the District of Columbia.
The focal point of this antitrust suit is Dentsply's "Dealer Criteria." Dentsply published its Dealer Criteria in 1993. The Dealer Criteria lists requirements for becoming and remaining an authorized Dentsply Trubyte dealer. (D.I. 245 at B-272) Among other things, the Dealer Criteria provides that "dealers that are recognized as authorized distributors may not add further tooth lines to their product offerings." (Id. at B-273) There is no contractual agreement between Dentsply and its Trubyte dealers. Thus, although Trubyte dealers may not add a competing line of teeth, they can switch to a rival manufacturer at any time. (D.I. 231 at 21)
All of the plaintiffs in these cases (collectively, "plaintiffs") allege that this exclusive dealing policy was designed to and has thwarted competitors'' attempts to build a dealer network and thus compete effectively in the United States. (D.I. 1, ¶ 30) Plaintiffs further allege that Dentsply, through its exclusive dealing policy, has undermined the efforts of competitors to maintain or recruit dental laboratory dealers and has induced some dealers to stop distributing competitors' teeth. (D.I. 1, ¶ 31) For example, in 1987, Frink Dental ("Frink"), a Trubyte dealer, agreed to start selling a competing tooth line. Dentsply terminated Frink as both a tooth and merchandise dealer. Dentsply also threatened to terminate other dealers that were supplying Frink with Trubyte teeth. Frink eventually agreed to stop selling the competing tooth line, and Dentsply reinstated Frink as a Trubyte dealer. (D.I. 244 at 6; D.I. 245 at B-1493; D.I. 245 at 1540-48)
Atlanta Dental Supply ("ADS") is another example of a Trubyte dealer whom Dentsply allegedly intimidated into foregoing a competitive tooth line. Sometime after 1993, ADS became interested in selling a competitive tooth line because it received a number of requests for them. ADS reached a tentative agreement with the competitor, but backed off the deal after Dentsply threatened to drop ADS as an authorized Trubyte dealer. (D.I. 244 at 6; D.I. 245 at B-1737-58)
In 1994, Pearson Dental Supply ("Pearson"), an authorized Trubyte dealer, took on a consignment of Vita teeth and began advertising them in its product catalog. Dentsply threatened to terminate Pearson. Pearson dropped Vita and then decided not to add a different competitor's line. (D.I. 244 at 6; D.I. 245 at B-1827-48)
In 1995, Dentsply permitted one of its former dealers, Dental Technicians Supply ("DTS"), to resume selling Trubyte teeth only after DTS agreed to stop selling Vita, Ivoclar, and Justi teeth in its Kansas City, Denver, and Orlando locations. Dentsply placed different restrictions on DTS's New York location that allowed DTS to continue selling Vita. (D.I. 244 at 6; D.I. 245 at B-2048-80; 333-40; 236-44)
In November 1998, DTS was acquired by Darby Dental ("Darby"), a Trubyte dealer that was not permitted to sell Vita in any location. When Darby acquired DTS's New York office, Darby management wanted to retain the Vita line in order to satisfy existing New York DTS customers. Dentsply insisted that if Darby were to sell Vita in its newly acquired New York office, Darby would be violating the Dealer Criteria. Dentsply gave Darby six months to exhaust DTS's Vita supply and offered to buy the remaining Vita inventory so that Darby would be in compliance. (C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 64 at DPLY-A-018242-43)
Plaintiffs allege that Dentsply, through its Dealer Criteria and other conduct, has entered into restrictive dealing arrangements with dental laboratory dealers, and sold teeth to them, on the condition that those dealers not deal with rival manufacturers. Plaintiffs allege that independent dental laboratory dealers have been, and continue to be, the primary channel of distribution of artificial teeth to dental laboratories. (D.I. 1, ¶ 14) Dentsply's Trubyte Division distributes its teeth through a network of these independent dental laboratory dealers who collectively constitute approximately 80% of the outlets distributing artificial teeth and other dental laboratory products in the United States. (D.I. 1, ¶ 16) Because Dentsply has a substantial market share, many dental laboratories currently use Dentsply Trubyte teeth and expect local dental laboratory dealers to have the Trubyte line available. By requiring the dental laboratory dealers to carry only the Trubyte line of teeth, plaintiffs allege that competitors are not able to effectively compete in the United States. (D.I. 1, ¶ 24, 30) Plaintiffs further allege that Dentsply's conduct has undermined the efforts of small domestic competitors of Dentsply in the United States to maintain or recruit dental laboratory dealers. (D.I. 1, ¶ 31)
Dentsply contends that because its exclusive dealing policy does not foreclose its competitors from the market for artificial teeth in the United States, the policy is not forbidden under the Sherman or Clayton Acts. Dentsply argues that rather than being foreclosed from the relevant market, alternative channels of distribution exist for Dentsply's rivals. For example, Ivoclar and Vita sell teeth directly to dental laboratories without going through an intermediary - a dental laboratory dealer. Thus, even if Dentsply's restrictive dealing arrangement has the effect of foreclosing access to dental laboratory dealers, Ivoclar, Vita, and other manufacturers can reach the end users - the dental laboratories - without hindrance. Trubyte dealers are free to stop selling Dentsply teeth and switch to a rival at any time. Dentsply further supports its restrictive dealing policy by arguing that it has procompetitive benefits.
Dentsply filed motions for summary judgment on standing grounds against the Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs. Dentsply's standing arguments against the Hess plaintiffs center around the Supreme Court's decision in Illinois Brick,7 while the standing arguments against the Kaminer plaintiffs relate to the named plaintiffs' ability to maintain a class action antitrust suit.
Dentsply filed motions for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds against the Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs. The allegations against both sets of plaintiffs are essentially the s ame.8
Dentsply argues that the Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs' claimed injuries are derived from Dentsply's Dealer Criteria which was announced in February 1993. The Kess and Kaminer plaintiffs filed their suits in 1999, more than four years after Dentsply announced the policy. As a final, binding version of an allegedly anticompetitive policy, Dentsply argues that the suits are time-barred because they were not filed within four years after February 1993.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A court shall grant summary judgment only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.10 (1986). "Facts that could alter the outcome are 'material,' and disputes are 'genuine' if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of the person with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct." Horowitz v. Federal Kemper Life Assurance Co., 57 F.3d 300, 302 n.l (3d Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted). If the moving party has demonstrated an absence of material fact, the nonmoving party then "must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita. 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). The court will "view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Pennsylvania Coal Ass'n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995). The mere existence of some evidence in support of the nonmoving party, however, will not be sufficient for denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury reasonably to find for the nonmoving party on that issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.. 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Plaintiffs charge that by agreeing with some dental laboratory dealers that the dealers would not carry competitive tooth lines, Dentsply willfully maintained and abused a monopoly in the United States market for prefabricated artificial teeth in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §2. (D.I. 1, ¶ 41) Plaintiffs allege that by entering into, maintaining, and enforcing these restrictive dealing agreements, Dentsply causes a substantial lessening of competition in the relevant market in violation of § 3 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 14, and unreasonably restrains trade in violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §1.
Plaintiffs' first cause of action is Dentsply's alleged violation of § 2 of the Sherman Act. Section 2 prohibits a business with monopoly power from maintaining that monopoly power through means that go beyond competition on the merits.9 To prove a claim under § 2, the plaintiffs must show that 1) Dentsply has a monopoly and 2) Dentsply maintained that monopoly through anticompetitive conduct as opposed to accident or superior business acumen. See United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563, 570-71 (1966).
Plaintiffs' second cause of action alleges violations of § 1 of the Sherman Act and § 3 of the Clayton Act. Section 1 of the Sherman Act provides that, "every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal. . . ," 15 U.S.C. § 1. Only unreasonable restraints of trade are prohibited. See Business Elecs. Corp. v. Sharp Elecs. Corp., 485 U.S. 717, 723 (1988) . Thus, to establish a claim under § 1 of the Sherman Act, plaintiffs must show that 1) there was a contract, combination, or conspiracy; 2) that unreasonably restrained trade; and 3) affected interstate commerce. See Armstrong Surgical Ctr., Inc. v. Armstrong County Mem'l Hosd.. 185 F.3d 154, 157 (3d Cir. 1999). All exclusive dealing agreements must comply with § 1 of the Sherman Act. Barr Labs.. Inc. v. Abbott Labs., 978 F.2d 98, 110 (3d Cir. 1992), citing American Motor Inns, Inc. v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 521 F.2d 1230, 1239 (3d Cir. 1975) .
Section 3 of the Clayton Act makes it unlawful for a person to sell goods on the condition, agreement, or understanding that the purchaser shall not deal in the goods of a competitor where the effects of such conditions, agreement, or understanding may be to substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly. See 15 U.S.C. § 14. In order to prove a claim under § 3 of the Clayton Act, plaintiffs must prove that the probable effect of Dentsply's restrictive dealing agreements is to decrease competition. See Standard Fashion Co. v. Maarane-Houston Co., 258 U.S. 346, 356 (1922). Exclusive dealing contracts are unlawful where they significantly foreclose the opportunity for rivals to enter or remain in the market. See Tampa Electric Co. v. Nashville Coal Co., 365 U.S. 320, 327-29 (1961). See also, Stephen F. Ross, Principles of Antitrust Law. 304-05 (1993). If an exclusive dealing policy "does not fall within the broader proscription of § 3 of the Clayton Act it follows that it is not forbidden by those of [§ 1 and § 2 of the Sherman Act.]" Tamoa Electric, 365 U.S. at 335.
Dentsply argues in support of its motions for summary judgment that its exclusive dealing agreements do not foreclose its rivals from reaching the end users - the dental laboratories. Dentsply points to four factors identified in the caselaw that preclude a claim of foreclosure:
In this regard, Dentsply contends that where the record demonstrates the above factors, exclusion from the dealers of the defendant has been held not to constitute a substantial lessening of competition.
Dentsply is correct in its assertion that, in the cases it cites, no antitrust violations were found. Of the five cases cited, however, three were decided after trial on the merits. One was decided on a preliminary injunction record.10 Only one was decided on a summary judgment record. See CDC Techs, v. IDEXX Labs., 186 F.3d 74 (2d Cir. 1999).11 In that case, plaintiff CDC Technologies ("CDC") sold blood analysis machines to veterinarians. It filed suit against its competitor, IDEXX Laboratories ("IDEXX"), and alleged, among other things, unlawful restraint of trade in violation of § 3 of the Clayton Act and monopolization and conspiracy to monopolize in violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act. In particular, CDC alleged that IDEXX illegally entered into exclusive dealing arrangements with CDC's former distributors. The distributors' role with CDC had been to provide CDC with the names of veterinarians potentially interested in purchasing blood analysis machines. IDEXX, a later entrant in the market, signed up CDC's distributors to play the same role in furnishing the names of likely veterinarians. The distributors did not purchase or resell the machines; rather, they merely located prospective customers.
The district court granted IDEXX's motion for summary judgment, concluding that CDC could not prove that the exclusive dealing arrangements had anticompetitive effects because: 1) the role of the distributors was so limited; 2) CDC had successfully used other techniques to reach end users; and 3) the exclusive dealing arrangements were of short duration and easily terminable. Id. at 75. On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment, finding that CDCs Clayton Act claim failed on a threshold level because the Clayton Act "does not regulate an arrangement with a distributor or middleman unless it involves actual sales." Id. at 75-76.
Of the three remaining cases, none have facts comparable to those at bar. For instance, in U.S. Healthcare v. Healthsource, 986 F.2d 589 (1st Cir. 1993), the court found no antitrust violations where defendants controlled only 4% to 5% of the relevant market and the doctors who had signed the exclusivity contracts at issue were not prohibited from seeing patients from the plaintiff HMOs; the only consequence of their doing so was that the doctors would lose the pay differential for being an exclusive service provider. In the district court's opinion, such an "exclusive clause [was] simply not 'an exclusive dealing arrangement' cognizable under antitrust laws.'" U.S. Healthcare v. Healthsource, 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5826 at * 26 (citing Reazin v. Blue Cross fi Blue Shield of Kansas. Inc.. 663 F. Supp. 1360, 1478 (D. Kan. 1987)). The appellate court affirmed.
The defendant in Ryko Mfg. Co. v. Eden Servs., 823 F.2d 1215 (8th Cir. 1987), had been one of plaintiff Ryko's distributors. Under its distributor contract, Eden had an exclusive geographic territory and was prohibited from selling competitive car-wash equipment, including a water reclaim device developed by Eden. In examining the exclusive dealing provisions of the distributor contract under § 1 of the Sherman Act and § 3 of the Clayton Act, the court declared that
exclusive dealing should be evaluated under an analysis "which takes into account not only the market share of the firm but the dynamic nature of the market in which the foreclosure occurs.
Id. at 1234. With Ryko's market share of 8% to 10%, the court concluded that Eden had not shown that the restraint had a probable adverse effect on interbrand competition.
Eden has produced no evidence suggesting that Ryko's exclusive dealing provisions generally prevent Ryko's competitors from finding effective distributors for (or other means of promoting and selling) their products. Rather, Eden charges that these provisions foreclose competition by preventing Eden from marketing its own water reclaim unit. The short answer to Eden's argument is that the concern of the antitrust law is the protection of competition, not individual competitors; the law is not designed to relieve a particular business of the burden of making the difficult choice between manufacturing its own product or distributing the product of another concern.
Finally, the court in Omega Envtl. v. Gilbarco, Inc.. 127 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 1997), concluded that Omega had not shown at trial that Gilbarco's exclusive dealing policy foreclosed competition in the market under the Clayton Act. In so concluding, the court noted that Gilbarco's policy foreclosed roughly 38% of the relevant market for sales, a "significant" foreclosure rate. Nevertheless, the court recognized under the rule of reason that other factors weighed against a finding of unreasonable restraint of trade.
First, exclusive dealing arrangements imposed on distributors rather than end-users are generally less cause for anticompetitive concern. . . . The record contains undisputed evidence that direct sales to end-users are an alternative channel of distribution in this market. . . . The record also contains undisputed evidence of potential alternative sources of distribution.
Id. at 1163-64.
Based upon its reading of the above caselaw, Dentsply asserts that its Dealer Criteria satisfies each of the four factors considered by courts in evaluating the competitive effects of exclusive dealing policies. First, Dentsply's competitors use different dental laboratory dealers to sell to dental laboratories. For example. Vita sells its teeth through Vident and Vident's subdealers. Second, some of Dentsply's competitors sell directly to the end users. For example, Ivoclar distributes its artificial teeth directly to dental laboratories in the United States. Third, its competitors could pursue new dealers. Dentsply claims there are 344 "dental dealers" in the United States, of which only approximately 30 are Trubyte dealers. Finally, the Trubyte dealers can switch to competing tooth lines at any time. No contract binds a Trubyte dealer to Dentsply. Dealers are free to switch to Vita, Ivoclar, or any other tooth manufacturer at any time.
While the court agrees that the existence of alternative channels of distribution to end users lessens the likelihood that an exclusive dealing policy forecloses competition in the relevant market, Dentsply has not met its burden of showing that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A genuine issue of material fact still exists as to whether selling directly to the end users is a viable option for manufacturers of artificial teeth.
Moreover, a genuine issue of material fact exists with respect to the foreclosure rate. Dentsply claims that the foreclosure rate in this case is approximately 10% because it only controls 30 of the over 300 Mental dealers." The government claims, however, that the number of available dental laboratory dealers is far less than what Dentsply claims. Dentsply relies on the figure of "dental dealers" listed in the Directory of U.S. Dental Dealers. That number, according to the government, includes "operatory" dealers. These operatory dealers sell various merchandise and equipment to dentist offices as opposed to the dental laboratories who purchase teeth. Dentsply has not convinced the court that these "operatory" dealers "have actual or potential ability to deprive existing dental laboratory dealers of significant levels of business." Id. at 1163, citing Thurman Indus., Inc. v. Pay 'N Pak Stores. Inc., 875 F.2d 1369, 1374 (9th Cir. 1989).
Dentsply also argues that because its exclusive dealing policy has procompetitive benefits, plaintiffs must prove that rivals are foreclosed from the market to maintain their claims. For example, Dentsply markets and promotes its teeth to dental laboratories, dentists, and dental students through national advertising, sales calls by its sales representatives, and through training and education programs. (D.I. 231 at 35) Dentsply claims that its ability to recoup its investment in these promotional efforts necessarily depends upon its ability to restrict its dealers from distributing rival tooth products. (Id.) Dentsply is correct that the plaintiffs have the ultimate burden of proving that the probable effect of the Dealer Criteria is to "foreclose competition in a substantial share of the line of commerce affected." Tampa Electric, 365 U.S. at 327. However, even if Dentsply creates demand for its Trubyte teeth, Dentsply has not presented enough evidence to demonstrate as a matter of law that its business justifications prevent the plaintiffs from meeting their burdens.
For the foregoing reasons, the court shall deny Dentsply's motions for summary judgment on the merits of the antitrust action. (C.A. No. 99-005, D.I. 230; C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 130; C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 45)
Section 4 of the Clayton Act provides that "any person who shall be injured in his business or property . . . shall recover threefold the damages by him sustained, and the cost of suit, including a reasonable attorney's fee." 15 U.S.C. § 15(a). Although the Clayton Act provides relief to anyone injured, the Supreme Court limited the scope of injured plaintiffs in Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720 (1977).
In Illinois Brick, the State of Illinois and 700 local government entities sought treble damages from defendant concrete block manufacturers under § 4 of the Clayton Act for an alleged price-fixing conspiracy. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had passed on overcharges resulting from the price-fixing conspiracy to masonry contractors who then passed on the overcharges to general contractors who then passed the overcharges to plaintiffs who purchased buildings made from concrete block. The plaintiffs, therefore, were indirect purchasers of concrete block. Id. at 726-27.
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether indirect purchaser plaintiffs could use the "pass on" theory to state a damage claim against an alleged antitrust violator. Previously, in Hanover Shoe, Inc. v. United Shoe Machinery Corp., 392 U.S. 481 (1968), the Court held that antitrust defendants could not argue that plaintiffs seeking treble damages were not injured because the plaintiffs had "passed on" the illegal overcharge to their own customers. Id. at 4 89. Maintaining consistency, the Illinois Brick Court held that antitrust plaintiffs could not claim an injury resulting from overcharges passed on to them through those who purchased directly from the defendant. Illinois Brick, 431 U.S. at 724-26, 735. The Court gave three reasons why the Hanover Shoe rule should apply to both plaintiffs and defendants. First, symmetry was necessary to avoid multiple liability. Without symmetry, both the brick masons and the state could sue the defendants and recover the full amount of the overcharge. Id. at 730. Second, the Court was concerned that judicial analysis of pass-on arguments would increase the complexity of antitrust litigation. Id. at 731-32. Finally, the majority argued that the private attorney general rationale underlying § 4 is best served by keeping all relief in the hands of the direct purchaser. Id. at 737-47. See generally, Ross, supra, at 218-19.
The Supreme Court has identified some exceptions to the indirect purchaser rule. In Illinois Brick itself, the Court noted that exceptions to the indirect purchaser rule would include situations where the indirect purchaser acquired goods through a preexisting cost-plus contract or "where the direct purchaser is owned or controlled by its customer." Illinois Brick, 431 U.S. at 736 & n. 16.
Since Illinois Brick, the Court has issued two notable opinions regarding antitrust standing. In Associated General Contractors v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519 (1983)("AGC"), the Supreme Court synthesized its previous rulings on antitrust standing by analyzing five factors to resolve the standing issue before it. As the Third Circuit explained in McCarthy v. Recordex Serv., Inc., 80 F.3d 842, 850 (3d Cir. 1996), the Supreme Court considered 1) the causal connection between the antitrust violation and the harm to the plaintiff, 2) whether the antitrust injury is "of the type that the antitrust statute was intended to forestall," 3) the directness or indirectness of the asserted injury, 4) the existence of more direct victims of the alleged violation, and 5) the potential for duplicative recovery or complex apportionment of damages. See id. at 850 (citing AGC, 459 U.S. at 537-44).
In Kansas v. Utilicorp United, Inc., 497 U.S. 199 (1990), plaintiffs, state attorneys general representing residential users of natural gas, sued various producers of natural gas who allegedly conspired to fix prices. The indirect purchaser plaintiffs argued that Illinois Brick did not apply because the concerns regarding risk of multiple recovery and difficulty in apportionment would not be implicated where the regulated utilities passed on one hundred per cent of their costs to customers, Id. at 208. The Court rejected the plaintiffs' theory, holding that the absence of a particular Illinois Brick predicate in an individual case does not change the bar against indirect purchaser suits. "[E]ven assuming that any economic assumptions underlying the Illinois Brick rule might be disproved in a specific case, we think it an unwarranted and counterproductive exercise to litigate a series of exceptions." Id. at 217.
In addition to Illinois Brick's "control exception," several courts have recognized a "co-conspirator exception." See, e.g., McCarthy, 80 F.3d at 855. Under this exception, indirect buyers have standing to bring an antitrust claim against defendants who are co-conspirators in a vertical antitrust conspiracy. Id. at 854. The Third Circuit, however, has "refused to adopt such an exception where the alleged co-conspirators immediately upstream were not also joined as codefendants." Id.
The Hess plaintiffs attack the standing issue with several theories. First, they assert that some dental laboratories are "direct" purchasers from Dentsply for purposes of Illinois Brick.12 The Hess plaintiffs claim that when Dentsply drop ships teeth directly to a dental laboratory or when the laboratory orders teeth through the internet-based DON, the Hess plaintiffs are direct purchasers and, thus, are entitled to pursue a damage claim under § 4 of the Clayton Act. When teeth are drop shipped or ordered through the DON, the shipment may go directly from Dentsply's York, Pennsylvania plant to the dental laboratory. According to § 2-103(d) of the Uniform Commercial Code, Dentsply is the "seller" of the goods. Section 2-106(1) defines a "sale" as "consist[ing] of the passing of title from the seller to the buyer for a price." Finally, § 2-401(2) dictates that such title passes to the buyer at the time and place for physical delivery of the goods. The Hess plaintiffs argue that since the Trubyte dealers never have physical custody of the teeth, title never passes to them. Since title passes directly from Dentsply to the dental laboratory, the Hess plaintiffs claim they are direct purchasers.
The court rejects this theory foremost because the complaint specifically alleges that the Hess plaintiffs are not direct purchasers. The named plaintiffs do not claim to have themselves purchased teeth directly from Dentsply. The court is likewise not convinced that this creative title theory is sufficient to overcome Illinois Brick. When a dental laboratory places an order through the DON or the teeth are drop shipped, the Trubyte dealer is still involved in the transaction. The dental laboratory pays the Trubyte dealer for the teeth and the Trubyte dealer in turn pays Dentsply. Because the Trubyte dealer acts as an intermediary between the dental laboratory and Dentsply, the court finds that the Hess plaintiffs are not direct purchasers under this theory.
The Hess plaintiffs next argue that even if they are indirect purchasers, they have standing because the Trubyte dealers are co-conspirators of Dentsply and, therefore, Illinois Brick does not apply. The Hess plaintiffs did not join the dental laboratory dealers as co-conspirators. Instead, the named Hess plaintiffs signed stipulations with 22 of the 26 Trubyte dealers. (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 175) The stipulations provide that the Trubyte dealers will release Dentsply from all claims for antitrust violations in exchange for the named plaintiffs agreeing not to file suit against the Trubyte dealers. According to the Hess plaintiffs' expert, Raymond S. Hartman, that group of 22 Trubyte dealers represents approximately 95% of the gross sales of Dentsply's Trubyte tooth products. (Id., ¶3) The Hess plaintiffs argue that the stipulations alleviate the concerns of duplicative recovery and difficulty in apportionment. Without addressing the merit of that claim,13 the court declines to make a new exception to Illinois Brick in light of 1) the Third Circuit's "refus[al] to adopt such an exception where the alleged co-conspirators immediately upstream were not also joined as codefendants," McCarthy, 80 F.3d at 8 54, and 2) the Supreme Court's ruling in Utilicorp whereby the Court invoked Illinois Brick to deny indirect purchaser standing even though the same economic assumptions in Illinois Brick were not present. 497 U.S. at 217.
Next, the Hess plaintiffs argue that Dentsply exerts virtual control over its Trubyte dealers and, therefore, Illinois Brick does not apply. The co-conspirator exception has been recognized in the Third Circuit when an antitrust defendant actually owns the direct purchaser. See In re Sugar Indus. Antitrust Litig., 579 F.2d 13, 18-19 (3d Cir. 1978) (permitting indirect purchasers to maintain damage claims against defendant even though the plaintiffs actually purchased goods from divisions or subsidiaries of defendant). Since Dentsply does not own its authorized dental laboratory dealers, the Hess plaintiffs have failed to show that they fit within the "control exception" in its current form. The Hess plaintiffs recognize that "the Third Circuit has [not] yet extended the 'control exception' to Illinois Brick beyond the scope of the parent-subsidiary relationship." The Hess plaintiffs nevertheless invite the court to expand the law to situations in which the manufacturer's control over its dealers is sufficiently strong enough to eliminate any possibility that the dealers might sue. In the absence of Third Circuit precedent, the court declines to expand the law.
The Hess plaintiffs argue further that they have standing because they also seek non-overcharge damages arising out of Dentsply's monopolistic and other conduct. In their opposition to Dentsply's motion for summary judgment on standing grounds, the Hess plaintiffs indicate that if they are barred by Illinois Brick from proving overcharge damages, they wish to retain the option of proving damages that, from their point of view, do not involve the difficulties of proof outlined in Illinois Brick. For example, the Hess plaintiffs claim that after discovery, they may be able to articulate a lost profits or other damages theory. Because the Hess plaintiffs have failed to articulate any theory of damages that would be anything other than the overcharges they incurred, the court holds that the Hess plaintiffs are barred by Illinois Brick from seeking money damages against Dentsply.
The court must still decide, however, whether the Hess plaintiffs can seek injunctive relief. Section 16 of the Clayton Act provides that "[a]ny person . . . shall be entitled to sue for and have injunctive relief . . . against threatened loss or damage by a violation of the antitrust laws." 15 U.S.C. § 26. Illinois Brick's indirect purchaser rule is not applicable to claims for injunctive relief. McCarthy. 80 F.3d at 856. In order to seek injunctive relief, the Hess plaintiffs must show 1) threatened loss or injury cognizable in equity; (2) proximately resulting from the alleged antitrust injury. In re Warfarin Sodium Antitrust Litig., 214 F.3d 395, 400 (3d Cir. 2000).
The Hess plaintiffs argue that they have been damaged in the form of over-payments for artificial teeth and will continue to be damaged as long as the conspiracy between Dentsply and its Trubyte dealers is allowed to remain in place. Dentsply argues that the Hess plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief are essentially moot because the government's case also seeks injunctive relief. Dentsply suggests that the government can obtain the same relief for the Hess plaintiffs without tackling the procedural hurdles of Rule 23. Although Dentsply ultimately may be correct in its assertion, the court will reserve judgment on this issue until further argument on whether the interests of the Hess plaintiffs and those of the government are sufficiently identical to preclude the Hess plaintiffs from pursuing their claims for injunctive relief.
For the foregoing reasons, the court shall grant in part and deny in part Dentsply's motion for summary judgment on standing grounds. (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 133) The motion is granted to the extent that the Hess plaintiffs seek damages. The motion is denied to the extent that they seek injunctive relief.
Several states have enacted statutes known as Illinois Brick repealers. These statutes provide that indirect purchasers may recover damages for violations of state antitrust laws where overcharges were passed on to them by direct purchasers. In California v. ARC America Corp., 490 U.S. 93 (1989), the Supreme Court upheld the legality of such statutes.
Although the state laws involved here do not follow the indirect purchaser rule, most of them nevertheless look to cases construing the federal antitrust laws for guidance in interpreting their statutes.14 Thus, the court will look to federal antitrust cases to determine the general standing requirements under the state antitrust laws.
The Kaminer plaintiffs maintain they have standing to seek damages under the antitrust laws of sixteen states and the District of Columbia. Dentsply attacks their standing on several grounds. First, Dentsply argues that the Kaminer plaintiffs suffered no injury under the antitrust statutes of the fifteen states other than New York and the District of Columbia. Since the Kaminer plaintiffs are New York residents who purchased dentures from a New York dentist in New York, the Kaminer plaintiffs suffered no antitrust injury in, for example, Minnesota. The Kaminer plaintiffs maintain that they only need individual standing to assert the claims of the absent class members. If the court certifies the class of indirect purchasers from the various states, the Kaminer plaintiffs contend that they will be a representative member of that class. The Kaminer plaintiffs argue that Dentsply's argument on this point is more appropriately made in opposition to class certification, not individual standing. The court agrees.
Dentsply next argues that the Kaminer plaintiffs do not have standing because they did not participate in the relevant market. The Kaminer plaintiffs' complaint defines the relevant product market as "'the sale of prefabricated artificial teeth in the United States." (C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 1, ¶ 10) The Kaminer plaintiffs purchased dentures rather than prefabricated artificial teeth. Dentsply contends that only about 6% of the price that dentists charge for dentures is attributable to the raw materials of the dentures, including the artificial teeth. (C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 52 at 4) Despite the lack of complete identity between dentures and prefabricated artificial teeth, the court finds a sufficient nexus on the record presented between the Kaminer plaintiffs' purchases and the relevant product market. At this stage of the proceedings, the Kaminer plaintiffs are participants in the artificial tooth market because they arguably are unable to fill their need for dentures without becoming indirect purchasers of prefabricated artificial teeth.
Dentsply argues that the Kaminer plaintiffs' alleged injury is too remote and speculative to confer upon them antitrust standing. While the Illinois Brick repealers allow indirect purchasers to recover for their antitrust injuries/ Dentsply argues that they do not confer automatic standing upon indirect purchasers. Instead, Dentsply asserts that the court should apply the AGC factors in determining standing under the state indirect purchaser statutes. The Kaminer plaintiffs argue that the purpose of the AGC factors is to guide the court's exercise of judgment in deciding standing in the absence of explicit statutory directives. The Kaminer plaintiffs contend that the states have issued an explicit legislative conferral of standing on indirect purchasers.
The Supreme Court in Illinois Brick discussed what class of persons could sue for treble damages in an antitrust action and concluded that only direct purchasers could sue. In AGC, however, the Court discussed the "conceptually more difficult question of xwhich persons have sustained injuries too remote from an antitrust violation to give him standing to sue for damages.'" Merican Inc. v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 713 F.2d 958, 964 (3d Cir. 1983). Thus, although the various states may have "repealed" Illinois Brick under their state schemes, that alone does not mean that they rejected the requirement that a plaintiff demonstrate injury sufficient to confer individual standing. See, e.g., Stationary Ena'rs Local 39 Health & Welfare Trust Fund v. Philip Morris, Inc., 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8302, *17 n.2, 27 (N.D. Cal. 1998)(stating that although Illinois Brick does not apply to California antitrust statute, plaintiff must still allege a direct injury to sustain a claim) .
In this regard, Dentsply argues that the Kaminer plaintiffs' theory requires proof that 1) Dentsply's Dealer Criteria and its other alleged anticompetitive behavior excluded competitive artificial tooth manufacturers from the market and limited competition in the sale of artificial teeth to dental laboratories; 2) the limited competition enabled Dentsply to exact monopoly profits from dental laboratory dealers; 3) Dentsply in fact charged supracompetitive prices for teeth; 4) all dealers, in turn, increased the prices they charged to dental laboratories; 5) when dental laboratories used Dentsply teeth in a denture, they increased the price that they charged the dentists for the denture and the price increase was attributable to the higher cost of the teeth; and 6) when the dentist sold the denature to the plaintiffs, all dentists independently chose to increase the price that they charged for the dentures.
Regardless of whether Dentsply is correct in its analysis of plaintiffs' burden of proof, the court concludes that there are genuine issues of material fact relating to the Kaminer plaintiffs'- antitrust injury that preclude the entry of summary judgment in favor of Dentsply as a matter of law under AGC.
As its final argument, Dentsply contends that New York law prohibits the Kaminer plaintiffs from maintaining their state law claims as a class action. When the Kaminer plaintiffs filed their complaint, they sought to maintain their various state claims, including New York's Donnelly Act, as a class action pursuant to Section 901(b) of the New York Civil Practice Law. Section 901 (b) provides:
Unless a statute creating or imposing a penalty, or a minimum measure of recovery specifically authorizes the recovery thereof in a class action, an action to recover a penalty, or minimum measure of recovery created or imposed by statute may not be maintained as a class action.
New York State case law characterizes the Donnelly Act's treble damages remedy as penal. See, e.g., Rubin v. Nine West Group, Inc., 1999 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 655, (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 1999). See also. In re Microsoft Antitrust Litig., 127 F. Supp.2d 702, 727 (D. Md. 2001) (dismissing antitrust class action claims under New York law because class actions cannot be maintained if the remedy is penal).
The Kaminer plaintiffs argue that since Dentsply removed this case to federal court, Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 governs this action rather than N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 901(b). The court must determine which law to apply.
The Third Circuit has recently reiterated the steps of analysis in choosing between a substantive state law and a potentially conflicting federal procedural rule. See Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158-59 (3d Cir. 2000). A federal court sitting in diversity must apply state substantive law and federal procedural law. See Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). This substantive/procedural dichotomy of the "Erie rule" must be applied with the objective that "in all cases where a federal court is exercising jurisdiction solely because of the diversity of citizenship of the parties, the outcome of the litigation in the federal court [will] be substantially the same, so far as legal rules determine the outcome of a litigation, as it would be if tried in a State court." Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 109 (1945). This focus on whether application of a state rule will or may affect the outcome is intended to serve "twin aims": "discouragement of forum shopping and avoidance of inequitable administration of the laws." Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 468 (1965).
Erie and its progeny make clear that when a federal court sitting in a diversity case is faced with a question of whether or not to apply state law, the importance of a state rule is indeed relevant, but only in the context of asking whether application of the rule would make so important a difference to the character or result of the litigation that failure to enforce it would unfairly discriminate against citizens of the forum State, or whether application of the rule would have so important an effect upon the fortunes of one or both of the litigants that failure to enforce it would be likely to cause a plaintiff to choose the federal court.
Id. at 468 n. 9.
The Supreme Court has added two caveats to these Erie principles. First, even though application of the state rule may hold some potential for affecting the outcome, a strong countervailing federal interest will dictate recourse to the federal rule. Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Coop, Inc., 356 U.S. 525 (1958). Second, the Erie rule may not be "invoked to void a Federal Rule" of Civil Procedure. Hanna, 380 U.S. at 470. Where a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure provides a resolution of an issue, that rule must be applied by a federal court sitting in diversity to the exclusion of a conflicting state rule so long as the federal rule is authorized by the Rules Enabling Act and consistent with the Constitution. Id.
Under Hanna, a federal court sitting in diversity first must determine whether a Federal Rule directly "collides" with the state law it is being urged to apply. See id. at 470-74. If there is such a direct conflict, the Federal Rule must be applied if it is constitutional and within the scope of the Rules Enabling Act. See Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427 n. 7 (1996). If a "direct collision" does not exist, then the court applies the Erie rule to determine if state law should be applied. Hanna, 380 U.S. at 470.
The court finds no conflict between Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 and N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 901(b). Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the manner of determining whether class certification is appropriate in federal courts; § 901(b) establishes a bar to certain claims being considered for class action treatment on a threshold level. Given that Rule 23 and § 901(b) coexist without conflict, the court shall consider traditional Erie principles to determine which rule applies.
In order to ensure that the outcome of the litigation at bar will be substantially the same, "so far as legal rules determine the outcome of a litigation, as it would be if tried in a State court," Guaranty Trust. 326 U.S. at 109, the court shall apply N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 901(b), which precludes these New York State residents from maintaining a class action under the Donnelly Act. For the foregoing reasons, the court shall grant Dentsply's motion for summary judgment on standing grounds. (C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 51)
Claims for monetary and injunctive relief under the Clayton Act are governed by a four-year statute of limitations. 15 U.S.C. § 15b; Pennsylvania Dental Ass'n v. Medical Serv. Ass'n. 815 F.2d 270, 277-78 (3d Cir. 1987)(assuming that four-year limitation period in § 15b applies to injunctive relief). When the government files suit seeking to enforce the federal antitrust laws, however, the statute of limitations for private rights of action is tolled while the government's suit is pending and for one year afterwards. 15 U.S.C. § 16(i). The government filed its antitrust action against Dentsply on January 7, 1999. Thus, in order for the Hess plaintiffs' claims under the federal antitrust statutes to be timely, their causes of action must have accrued after January 7, 1995.
Ten of the state laws at issue also follow the four-year statute of limitations.15 Five states have a limitations period shorter than four years.16 Maine and Wisconsin have six-year statutes of limitations.17 Although the Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs have different theories as to why their claims are timely, the underlying factual inquiries are the same.
Dentsply argues that the Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs' claims are barred because neither of the plaintiff groups alleges an overt act by Dentsply during the limitations period. Dentsply admits that it issued its Dealer Criteria in February 1993 and has enforced the policy since that time. The issue for the court is whether the statute of limitations starts anew each time Dentsply enforces its Dealer Criteria or whether the enactment of the Dealer Criteria was a final act in itself.
Generally a cause of action accrues when the defendant 1) commits an act that 2) injures the plaintiff. Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 401 U.S. 321, 338 (1971). In the context of a continuing conspiracy to violate the antitrust laws, this is understood to mean that each time the plaintiff is injured by an act of the defendant, a cause of action accrues to him. Id.
The Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs urge the court to apply the continuing violations rule to the various statutes of limitations. They allege that the overt acts could include charging monopolistic prices or enforcing the Dealer Criteria. The injuries they allege include having a lack of choice in the market and paying supracompetitive prices for prefabricated artificial teeth or dentures.
The court finds that the continuing violations rule should apply to the facts at bar and that the single event of Dentsply's announcing its Dealer Criteria does not constitute the sole overt act permissibly alleged in this litigation. The court further finds, however, that the overt act alleged by a plaintiff must be causally related to the plaintiff's claimed injury. See In re Lower Lake Erie Iron Ore Antitrust Litig., 998 F.2d 1144, 1163 (3d Cir. 1993). Under this standard, there are genuine issues of material fact as to the application of the statutes of limitations to the various plaintiffs.18
For the foregoing reasons, the court shall deny Dentsply's motions for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds. (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 135; C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 48)
For the foregoing reasons, the court denies Dentsply's motions for summary judgment on the merits of the antitrust causes of action. The court grants Dentsply's motion for summary judgment against the Hess plaintiffs on standing grounds to the extent that the Hess plaintiffs seek money damages. The court denies that motion to the extent that the Hess plaintiffs seek injunctive relief. The court grants Dentsply's motion for summary judgment against the Kaminer plaintiffs on standing grounds. The court denies Dentsply's motions for summary judgment against the Hess and Kaminer plaintiffs on statute of limitations grounds. An appropriate order shall issue.
1. The Kaminer plaintiffs' counsel indicated that Amnon Kaminer will be withdrawing his claim against Dentsply. (C.A. No. 99-854, D.I. 63 at 1 n.l)
2. Unless otherwise noted, docket entries refer to submissions made in C.A. No. 99-005.
3. A review of the artificial teeth trade literature had found that the preferred spelling of this word is "mould" instead of "mold."
4. Dentsply accepts the government's market definition for the purposes of this summary judgment motion. (D.I. 231 at 23 n. 41)
5. The system also allows customers to order directly from Dentsply. (D.I. 256 at C-148) The Hess plaintiffs have not offered evidence that they or anyone else has used the DON to order directly from Dentsply.
6. The court notes that since the Kaminer class purports to cover all indirect purchasers, the Hess plaintiffs would also be included in that class.
7. Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720 (1977).
8. Because the statute of limitations for antitrust actions in Maine and Wisconsin is six years, Dentsply does not seek summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds for claims arising under those laws. The federal antitrust laws and the antitrust laws of all other states involved here provide a limitations period of four years or less. See discussion infra Section IV.D.
9. "Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony. . , ." 15 U.S.C. § 2.
10. In that case, Roland Machinery Co. v. Dresser Industries, Inc., 749 F.2d 380 (7th Cir. 1984), the court specifically held that, "although we have concluded that the district judge should not have granted Roland's motion for a preliminary injunction, our discussion of the probable merits of Roland's antitrust claim is tentative. We do not exclude the possibility that on the fuller record made in the trial on the merits Roland will succeed in establishing its claim." Id. at 395-96.
11. Therefore, while some general principles may be distilled from these decisions, all but one are distinguishable based upon the procedural posture of this case.
12. The Hess plaintiffs' complaint specifically limits the class to "all dental laboratory purchasers of any Dentsply products who purchased such products through Dentsply Dealers. . . ." (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 1, ¶ 10)(emphasis added). In their opposition to Dentsply's motion for summary judgment on standing grounds, the Hess plaintiffs claimed that "discovery has revealed that a substantial portion of Dentsply's sales are made directly to labs." (C.A. No. 99-255, D.I. 151 at 44 n. 21) The Hess plaintiffs offered to amend the complaint to allege that some laboratories purchased teeth directly from Dentsply. (Id.)
13. The court is not convinced that the stipulations will have the purported effects of eliminating duplicative recovery or difficulty in apportionment. The stipulations are only between the named plaintiffs and the 22 individual Trubyte dealers. Even if this court were to certify the class of dental laboratory dealers, the stipulations would not bind those class members who opt out of the class.
14. See D.C. Code Ann. § 28-4515 (1981); Fla. Stat. Ann. §501.204(2)(West 1997 & Supp. 1998); Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 445.784(2) (West 1989); N.M. Stat. Ann. § 57-1-15 (Michie 1995); S.D. Codified Laws § 37-1-22 (Michie 1994); W. Va. Code § 47-18-16 (1995); Marshall v. Planz, 13 F. Supp.2d 1231, 1246 (M.D. Ala, 1998); Vinci v. Waste Mgmt., Inc., 43 Cal. Rptr.2d 337, 338 n. 1 (Cal. Ct. App., 1st Dist. 1995); Tri-State Rubbish. Inc. v. Waste Mgmt., Inc., 875 F. Supp. 8, 14 (D. Me. 1994); Keeting v. Philip Morris. Inc., 417 N.W.2d 132, 136 (Minn Ct. App. 1987); NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 393 So. 2d 1290, 1301 (Miss. 1980), rev'd on other grounds, 458 U.S. 886 (1982); Chow v. Union Central Life Ins. Co, 457 F. Supp. 1303, 1308 (E.D.N.Y. 1978); Rose v. Vulcan Materials Co., 194 S.E.2d 521, 530 (N.C. 1973); State ex rel. Leech v. Levi Straus & Co., 1980 WL 4696 at *2 n.2 (Tenn. Ch. Ct. 1980); Grams v. Boss, 294 N.W.2d 473 (Wis. 1980). It is not clear whether Kansas and North Dakota use the federal antitrust laws for guidance in interpreting their own antitrust statutes.
15. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 16750.1 (West 1997); D.C. Code Ann. § 28-4511(b)(1981); Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 445.781(1) (West 1997); Minn. Stat. Ann. § 325D.64 (West 1997); N.M. Stat. Ann. § 57-1-12 (Michie 1995); N.Y. Gen. Bus. Laws § 340 (5) [McKinney 1997); N.C. Stat. Ann. § 75-16.2 (1996); N.D. Cent. Code § 51-08.1-10 (1997); S.D. Codified Laws Ann. § 37-1-14.4 (1994); W. Va. Code Ann. § 47-18-11 (1997).
16. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-512 (1997)(three years); Miss. Code. Ann. § 15-1-49 (1991) (three years); Ala. Code § 6-2-38(1) (two years); State ex rel. Leech v. Levi Straus & Co., 1980 WL 4696 at *1 (Tenn. Ch. Ct. 1980) (stating that antitrust actions in Tennessee are subject to the three-year statute of limitations in Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-305); Fla. Stat. Ann. § 501.204(2) (stating that Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act is to be construed in light of federal precedent interpreting the Federal Trade Commission Act which has a three-year limitations period under 15 U.S.C. § 57b).
17. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 133.18 (West 1997); Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 14 § 752 (West 1980). Dentsply concedes that the Kaminer plaintiffs' claims under Wisconsin and Maine law are timely because the statutes of limitations encompass the time that Dentsply announced its Dealer Criteria for the first time. 18 A jury, for instance, could find that by terminating a particular dealer or forcing a dealer to give up a competitive tooth line, Dentsply committed an overt act that caused the Hess or Kaminer plaintiffs to pay higher prices or face a limited selection during the limitations period. The court notes that since the Hess plaintiffs are now only seeking injunctive relief, they only need to allege a threatened loss or injury. Warfarin, 214 F.3d at 400. On the other hand, if the Kaminer plaintiffs were allowed to pursue their claims, each such plaintiff would have to show that he purchased dentures sometime after January 7, 1995.