Supreme Court Amicus Brief of Professors and Scholars in Law and Economics in Support of the Petitioners, Pacific Bell Telephone Co. v. Linkline Communications, Inc., No. 07-512 (Filed Sept. 4, 2008)
U.S. Supreme Court
24 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2008 Last revised: 23 May 2012
Date Written: September 5, 2008
The linkLine price squeeze case pending in the Supreme Court for the Fall 2008 Term is one of the most significant antitrust cases on monopolization law that the Court has taken in years. Amici are professors and scholars in law and economics who have taught, or have conducted research on, antitrust law and the economics of industrial organization. They are William J. Baumol, Robert H. Bork, Robert W. Crandall, George Daly, Harold Demsetz, Jeffrey A. Eisenach, Kenneth G. Elzinga, Richard A. Epstein, Gerald Faulhaber, Franklin M. Fisher, Charles J. Goetz, Robert Hahn, Jerry A. Hausman, Keith N. Hylton, Thomas M. Jorde, Robert E. Litan, Paul W. MacAvoy, Sam Peltzman, J. Gregory Sidak, Pablo T. Spiller, and Daniel F. Spulber.
We agree with the petitioners that the Ninth Circuit has generated an inescapable conflict among circuits, and that its opinion is incompatible with the Supreme Court's decisions in Trinko, Weyerhaeuser, and Brooke Group. We agree with Judge Gould's dissent from the Ninth Circuit's decision in linkLine that Trinko "takes the issues of wholesale pricing out of the case," such that the plaintiffs' only possible remaining theory of harm would be predatory pricing at the retail level - which the plaintiffs did not allege. We also agree with Judge Ginsburg's opinion for the D.C. Circuit in Covad Communications Co. v. Bell Atlantic Corp., which in turn embraces the conclusion of the Areeda-Hovenkamp treatise that "it makes no sense to prohibit a predatory price squeeze in circumstances where the integrated monopolist is free to refuse to deal." The existence of a rule like linkLine has a pervasive impact on business behavior that, at the margin, affects competition and consumers. This deleterious effect extends beyond the telecommunications industry to affect all firms that do business in the Ninth Circuit. These reasons justify reversing the Ninth Circuit's decision.
In our minds, an even larger reason than those described above makes it imperative that the Court reverse this decision. The Ninth Circuit's decision in linkLine implicates the normative foundation of modern Sherman Act jurisprudence: that antitrust law exists to advance consumer welfare. We have three points to make.
First, any rule of price-squeeze liability that threatens liability based on the claim that the difference between a firm's upstream and downstream prices leaves downstream rivals insufficient margin substitutes a rule of competitor welfare for consumer welfare.
Second, properly understood, a price squeeze is a regulatory issue, which makes sense only as a rule of price regulation in an industry already subject to duties to deal and to control by institutionally competent regulators. Attempting to implement regulatory policy through section 2 of the Sherman Act is ill-advised, both because it makes no sense for courts to re-regulate deregulated or lightly regulated industries, and because courts lack the institutional competence to implement regulation.
Third, the Ninth Circuit's rule is of pressing concern precisely because it will deter efficiency-enhancing conduct and competitive pricing. Vertical integration and partial integration are ubiquitous, and firms need to be able to make decisions about such integration without the threat of liability. Vertically integrated firms likewise need to be free to cut retail prices (as long as the prices are not predatory) without concern for rivals - the point of Brooke Group. Moreover, the Ninth Circuit's standard is so vague and open-ended that it creates uncertainty and invites litigation; it also permits imposition of liability based on apparently subjective evaluation of disputed and hard-to-prove facts, which will lead to a substantial risk of false positives.
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