In Praise of Private Antitrust Litigation
Antitrust Chronicles, Competition Policy International (Feb. 2019)
10 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2019
Date Written: February 27, 2019
In 2017, Professor Alexandra Lahav of the University of Connecticut School of Law published an impressive book entitled In Praise of Litigation. She argues that private civil litigation in the United States is an important tool for democracy. In the preface and introduction, she explains how private civil litigation promotes American democracy:
Lawsuits enforce the law by forcing wrongdoers to answer for their conduct; they increase transparency by eliciting information from their adversaries that often benefits the public, and in doing so, they help people participate in self-government. All of this is possible when courts treat litigants as social equals before the law.
She is not blind to the costs of the civil litigation system, but contends that those costs are often exaggerated, and the societal benefits usually underappreciated. She emphasizes that disputes about the institutions and procedure of litigation are often merely a proxy for disagreements about the proper types of regulation of potentially harmful conduct.
Antitrust is only a minor aspect of Lahav’s arguments and discussions. She focuses on the more general mix of civil litigation in state and federal court and showcases a variety of examples involving civil rights, employment discrimination, and tort cases.
Professor Lahav’s arguments are an excellent jumping off point for how private antitrust litigation has been systematically undervalued and how private claims contribute to the proper functioning of competition policy. In this essay, I argue that private treble damage litigation promotes the four values identified by Lahav: enforcement, transparency, participation, and equality before the law. I also argue that the preference for public over private antitrust enforcement cannot be justified in the text, history, or policy goals of antitrust objectives, with the rare exception of a case involving major structural relief or substantial harm to the foreign policy or the national interests of the United States. I end with a brief look at a likely future where private enforcement continues to be restricted and underserved in the United States, encouraged and nurtured abroad, and how we can do better.
Keywords: antitrust, competition law, private rights of action, private damage actions, trebel damages, class actions, compensation
JEL Classification: K21, K41, K42, L40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation