326 U.S. 1 (1945), 57, Associated Press v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 57
Citation:326 U.S. 1, 65 S.Ct. 1416, 89 L.Ed. 2013
Party Name:Associated Press v. United States
Case Date:June 18, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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326 U.S. 1 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 1416, 89 L.Ed. 2013

Associated Press

v.

United States

No. 57

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1945

Argued December 5, 6, 1944

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK.

Syllabus

By-laws of the Associated Press, a cooperative association engaged in gathering and distributing news in interstate and foreign commerce, prohibited service of AP news to nonmembers, prohibited members from furnishing spontaneous news to nonmembers, and empowered members to block membership applications of competitors. A contract between AP and a Canadian press association obligated both to furnish news exclusively to each other. Charging, inter alia, that the bylaws and the contract violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Government sought an injunction against AP and member publishers. Upon the Government's motion, the District Court rendered summary judgment.

Held:

1. The bylaws and the contract, together with the admitted facts, justified summary judgment. Rule 56 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. P. 5.

2. Publishers charged with violating the Sherman Act are subject, no less than others, to the summary judgment procedure. P. 7.

3. The bylaws, on their face, constitute restraints of trade and violate the Sherman Act. P. 12.

(a) That AP had not achieved a complete monopoly is irrelevant. P. 12.

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(b) Trade in news carried on among the States is interstate commerce. P. 14.

(c) The fact that AP's activities are cooperative does not render the Sherman Act inapplicable. P. 14.

(d) Although true in a general sense that an owner of property may dispose of it as he pleases, he can not go beyond the exercise of that right and, by contracts or combinations, express or implied, unduly hinder or obstruct the free flow of interstate commerce. P. 15.

(e) The fact that there are other news agencies which sell news, and that AP's reports are not "indispensable," can give AP's restrictive bylaws no exemption under the Sherman Act. P. 17.

(f) The result here does not involve an application of the "public utility" concept to the newspaper business. P. 19.

(g) Arrangements or combinations designed to stifle competition can not be immunized through a membership device which would accomplish that purpose. P. 19.

(h) Application of the Sherman Act to a combination of publishers to restrain trade in news does not abridge the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment. Pp. 19-20.

4. The decree of the District Court, interpreted as meaning that AP news is to be furnished to competitors of members without discrimination through bylaws controlling membership or otherwise, is not vague and indefinite, and is approved. P. 21.

5. The District Court did not err in refusing to hold as a violation of the Sherman Act standing alone (1) the bylaws provision forbidding service of AP news to nonmembers, (2) the bylaws provision forbidding AP members from furnishing spontaneous news to nonmembers, or (3) the Canadian press contract; and the court was justified in enjoining their observance temporarily pending AP's abandonment of the bylaws provision empowering members to block membership applications of competitors. P. 21.

6. The fashioning of a decree in an antitrust case, to prevent future violations and eradicate existing evils, rests largely in the discretion of the trial court. P. 22.

7. The case having been presented on the narrow issues arising out of undisputed facts, it cannot be said that the District Court's decree should have been broader, and, if the decree in its present form should prove inadequate to prevent further discriminatory trade restraints against nonmember newspapers, the District Court's retention of jurisdiction of the cause will enable it to take appropriate action. P. 22.

52 F.Supp. 362, affirmed.

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Appeals from a decree of a district court of three judges in a suit by the United States to enjoin alleged violations of the Sherman Act.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

[65 S.Ct. 1417] MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court. **

The publishers of more than 1,200 newspapers are members of the Associated Press (AP), a cooperative

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association incorporated under the Membership Corporations Law of the State of New York. Its business is the collection, assembly and distribution of news. The news it distributes is originally obtained by direct employees of the Association, employees of the member newspapers, and the employees of foreign independent news agencies with which AP has contractual relations, such as the Canadian Press. Distribution of the news is made through interstate channels of communication to the various newspaper members of the Association, who pay for it under an assessment plan which contemplates no profit to AP.

The United States filed a bill in a Federal District Court for an injunction against AP and other defendants charging that they had violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 26 Stat. 209, in that their acts and conduct constituted (1) a combination and conspiracy in restraint of trade and commerce in news among the states, and (2) an attempt to monopolize a part of that trade.

The heart of the government's charge was that appellants had, by concerted action, set up a system of bylaws which prohibited all AP members from selling news to nonmembers, and which granted each member powers to block its nonmember competitors from membership. These bylaws, to which all AP members had assented, were, in the context of the admitted facts, charged to be in violation of the Sherman Act. A further charge related to a contract between AP and Canadian Press (a news agency of Canada similar to AP) under which the Canadian agency and AP obligated themselves to furnish news exclusively to each other. The District Court, composed of three judges, held that the bylaws unlawfully restricted admission to AP membership, and violated the Sherman Act insofar as the bylaws' provisions clothed a member with powers to impose or dispense with conditions upon the admission of his business competitor.

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Continued observance of these bylaws was enjoined. The court further held that the Canadian contract was an integral part of the restrictive membership conditions, and enjoined its observance pending abandonment of the membership restrictions. The government's motion for summary judgment, under Rule 56 of the Rules of Civil Procedure,1 was granted, and its prayer for relief was granted in part and denied in part. 52 F.Supp. 362. Both sides have brought the case to us on direct appeal. 15 U.S.C. § 29; 28 U.S.C. § 345.

At this point, it seems advisable to pass upon the contention of the appellants that there were genuine disputes as to material facts, and that the case therefore should have gone to trial. The only assignments of error made by the appellants in No. 57 (Associated Press et al. v. United States), relating to this question are that the court erred "[i]n holding that there was no genuine issue between the parties as to any material fact" and "[i]n not entering summary judgment against the plaintiff." This latter assignment is based on the premise that summary proceedings were properly utilized in the case. The appellants in No. 58 (Tribune Company et al. v. United States) have one assignment of error to the effect that

[t]he defendants are entitled to a trial of genuine issues of fact unmentioned in the findings of the court but which if found [65 S.Ct. 1418] for the defendants would render this holding unwarranted.

None of the appellants has pointed to any

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disputed facts essential to a determination of the validity or invalidity of the bylaws and the contract. Admitting the existence of both the bylaws and the contract, their answers and their affidavits in the summary proceedings defended the legality of the restrictive arrangements, but did not in any instance deny that nonmembers of AP were denied access to news of AP and of all of its member publishers by reason of the concerted arrangements between the appellants. Nor was it denied that the bylaws granted AP members powers to impose restrictive conditions upon admission to membership of nonmember competitors. The court below, in making findings and entering judgment, carefully abstained from the consideration of any evidence which might possibly be in dispute. We agree that Rule 56 should be cautiously invoked to the end that parties may always be afforded a trial where there is a bona fide dispute of facts between them. Sartor v. Arkansas Nat. Gas. Co., 321 U.S. 620. There was no injury to any of the appellants as a result of the summary proceedings, since, for reasons to be indicated, the restrictive arrangements, which appellants admitted, were sufficient to justify summary action by the court at that stage of the case. In reaching our conclusion on the summary judgment question, we are not unmindful of the argument that newspaper publishers charged with combining cooperatively to violate the Sherman Act are entitled to have a different and more favorable kind of trial procedure than all other persons covered by the Act. No language in the Sherman Act or the summary judgment statute lends support to the suggestion. There is no single element in our traditional insistence upon an equally fair trial for every person from which any such discriminatory trial practice could stem. For equal -- not unequal -- justice under law is the goal of our society. Our legal system has not established different measures of proof for the trial of cases in which equally intelligent and responsible

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defendants are charged with violating the same statutes. Member publishers of AP are engaged in business for profit exactly as are other business men who sell food, steel, aluminum, or anything else people need or want. See International News Service v. Associated Press, 248 U.S. 215, 229,...

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