388 U.S. 365 (1967), 25, United States v. Arnold, Schwinn & Co.

Docket Nº:No. 25
Citation:388 U.S. 365, 87 S.Ct. 1856, 18 L.Ed.2d 1249
Party Name:United States v. Arnold, Schwinn & Co.
Case Date:June 12, 1967
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 365

388 U.S. 365 (1967)

87 S.Ct. 1856, 18 L.Ed.2d 1249

United States


Arnold, Schwinn & Co.

No. 25

United States Supreme Court

June 12, 1967

Argued April 20, 1967




This is a civil antitrust suit under § 1 of the Sherman Act in which appellees were charged by the Government with a continuing conspiracy, with others, to fix prices, to allocate exclusive territories to wholesalers and jobbers, and to confine merchandise to franchised dealers. Appellees are Arnold, Schwinn & Co. (Schwinn), a leading bicycle manufacturer, and an association of distributors handling Schwinn products. In 1951, Schwinn had the largest share, 22.%, of the U.S. bicycle market. By 1961, its share had fallen to 12.8%, although dollar and unit sales had risen. The market leader, with 22.8% in 1961, which had increased its share from 11.6% in 1951, sells mainly to mass merchandisers. Schwinn sells to (1) distributors, (2) retailers by means of consignment or agency arrangements with distributors, and (3) retailers under the Schwinn Plan, which involves direct shipment to retailers with Schwinn invoicing the dealers, extending credit, and paying a commission to the distributor taking the order. Schwinn assigned specific territories to each of its wholesale distributors who were instructed to sell only to franchised dealers in their respective territories. The District Court rejected the charge of price-fixing, held that the Schwinn franchising system was fair and reasonable, but that the territorial limitation was unlawful per se as respects products sold by Schwinn to its distributors. The United States did not appeal from the rejection of the price-fixing charge, and appellees did not appeal from the order invalidating restraints on resale by distributors who purchase products from Schwinn. The Government requests that the limitations on distribution where the distributor acts as agent or consignee of Schwinn or on the Schwinn Plan be considered under the "rule of reason," and that they be held to constitute an unreasonable restraint of trade.


1. The promotion of Schwinn's self-interest alone does not invoke the rule of reason to immunize otherwise illegal conduct.

It is only if the conduct is not unlawful in its impact in the marketplace or if the self-interest coincides with the statutory concern with

Page 366

the preservation and promotion of competition that protection is achieved.

P. 375.

2. It is

illogical and inconsistent to forbid territorial limitations on resales by distributors where the distributor owns the goods . . . and, at the same time, to exonerate arrangements which require distributors to confine resales of the goods they have bought to "franchised" retailers.

Pp. 377-378.

(a) The decree should be revised on remand to

enjoin any limitation upon the freedom of distributors to dispose of the Schwinn products, which they have bought from Schwinn, where and to whomever they choose.

P. 378.

(b) Since this principle is equally applicable to sales to retailers,

the decree should similarly enjoin the making of any sales to retailers upon any condition, agreement or understanding limiting the retailer's freedom as to where and to whom it will resell the products.

P. 378.


Where the manufacturer retains title, dominion, and risk with respect to the product and the position and function of the dealer in question are, in fact, indistinguishable from that of an agent or salesman of the manufacturer, it is only if the impact of the confinement is "unreasonably" restrictive of competition that a violation of § 1

of the Sherman Act results from such confinement, absent culpable price-fixing. Pp. 380-381.

(a) While a manufacturer's adoption "of an agency or consignment pattern and the Schwinn type of restrictive distribution system" would not be

justified in any and all circumstances by the presence of the competition of mass merchandisers and by the demonstrated need of the franchise system to meet that competition,

in the absence of price-fixing and with an adequate source of alternative products to meet the needs of the unfranchised, the vertically imposed distribution restraints may not be held to be per se violations of the Sherman Act. P. 381.

(b) As long as Schwinn retains all indicia of ownership and the dealers' activities are indistinguishable from those of agents or salesmen, Schwinn's franchising of retailers and confinement of retail sales to them do not constitute an "unreasonable" restraint of trade. P. 381.

237 F.Supp. 323, reversed and remanded.

Page 367

FORTAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States brought this appeal to review the judgment of the District Court in a civil antitrust case alleging violations of § 1 of the Sherman Act, 26 Stat. 209, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 1. Direct appeal is authorized by 2 of the Expediting Act, 32 Stat. 823, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 29. The complaint charged a continuing conspiracy since 1952 between defendants and other alleged coconspirators involving price-fixing, allocation of exclusive territories to wholesalers and jobbers, and confinement of merchandise to franchised dealers. Named as defendants were Arnold, Schwinn & Company ("Schwinn"), the Schwinn Cycle Distributors Association ("SCDA"), and B. F. Goodrich Company ("B. F. Goodrich").1

At trial, the United States asserted that not only the price-fixing, but also Schwinn's methods of distribution were illegal per se under § 1 of the Sherman Act. The trial lasted 70 days. The evidence, largely offered by appellees, elaborately sets forth information as to the total market interaction and interbrand competition, as well as the distribution program and practices.

The District Court rejected the charge of price-fixing. With respect to the charges of illegal distribution practices, the court held that the territorial limitation was

Page 368

unlawful per se as respects products sold by Schwinn to its distributors, but that the limitation was not unlawful insofar as it was incident to sales by Schwinn itself to franchised retailers where the wholesaler or jobber (hereinafter [87 S.Ct. 1860] referred to as the distributor) functioned as agent or consignee, including distribution pursuant to the "Schwinn Plan" described below.

The United States did not appeal from the District Court's rejection of its price-fixing charge. The appellees did not appeal from the findings and order invalidating restraints on resale by distributors who purchase products from Schwinn.

In this Court, the United States has abandoned its contention that the distribution limitations are illegal per se. Instead, we are asked to consider these limitations in light of the "rule of reason," and, on the basis of the voluminous record below, to conclude that the limitations are the product of "agreement" between Schwinn and its wholesale and retail distributors and that they constitute an unreasonable restraint of trade.

Appellee Schwinn is a family-owned business which for many years has been engaged in the manufacture and sale of bicycles and some limited bicycle parts and accessories.2 Appellee SCDA is an association of distributors handling Schwinn bicycles and other products. The challenged marketing program was instituted in 1952. In 1951, Schwinn had the largest single share of the United States bicycle market -- 22.5%. In 1961, Schwinn's share of market had fallen to 12.8% although its dollar and unit sales had risen substantially. In the same period, a competitor, Murray Ohio Manufacturing Company, which is now the leading United States bicycle

Page 369

producer, increased its market share from 11.6% in 1951 to 22.8% in 1961. Murray sells primarily to Sears, Roebuck & Company and other mass merchandisers. By 1962 there were nine bicycle producers in the Nation, operating 11 plants. Imports of bicycles amounted to 29.7% of sales in 1961.

Forty percent of all bicycles are distributed by national concerns which operate their own stores and franchise others. Another 20% are sold by giant chains and mass merchandisers like Sears and Montgomery Ward & Company. Sears and Ward together account for 20% of all bicycle sales. Most of these bicycles are sold under private label. About 30% of all bicycles are distributed by cycle jobbers which specialize in the trade, and the remaining 10% by hardware and general stores.

Schwinn sells its products primarily to or through 22 wholesale distributors, with sales to the public being made by a large number of retailers. In addition, it sells about 11% of its total to B. F. Goodrich for resale in B. F. Goodrich retail or franchised stores. There are about 5,000 to 6,000 retail dealers in the United States which are bicycle specialty shops, generally also providing servicing. About 84% of Schwinn's sales are through such specialized dealers. Schwinn sells only under the Schwinn label, never under private label, while about 64% of all bicycles are sold under private label. Distributors and retailers handling Schwinn bicycles are not restricted to the handling of that brand. They may and ordinarily do sell a variety of brands.

The United States does not contend that there is in this case any restraint on interbrand competition, nor does it attempt to sustain its charge by reference to the market for bicycles as a whole. Instead, it invites us to confine our attention to the intrabrand effect of the contested restrictions. It urges us to declare that the

Page 370

method of distribution of a single brand of bicycles, amounting to less than one-seventh of the market, constitutes an unreasonable restraint of [87 S.Ct. 1861] trade or commerce among the several States.

Schwinn's principal methods of selling its bicycles are as follows: (1) sales to distributors, primarily...

To continue reading