475 U.S. 574 (1986), 83-2004, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp.

Docket Nº:No. 83-2004
Citation:475 U.S. 574, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538, 54 U.S.L.W. 4319
Party Name:Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp.
Case Date:March 26, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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475 U.S. 574 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538, 54 U.S.L.W. 4319

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.

v.

Zenith Radio Corp.

No. 83-2004

United States Supreme Court

March 26, 1986

Argued November 12, 1985

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners are 21 Japanese corporations or Japanese-controlled American corporations that manufacture and/or sell "consumer electronic products" (CEPs) (primarily television sets). Respondents are American corporations that manufacture and sell television sets. In 1974, respondents brought an action in Federal District Court, alleging that petitioners, over a 20-year period, had illegally conspired to drive American firms from the American CEP market by engaging in a scheme to fix and maintain artificially high prices for television sets sold by petitioners in Japan and, at the same time, to fix and maintain low prices for the sets exported to and sold in the United States. Respondents claim that various portions of this scheme violated, inter alia, §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, § 2(a) of the Robinson-Patman Act, and § 73 of the Wilson Tariff Act. After several years of discovery, petitioners moved for summary judgment on all claims. The District Court then directed the parties to file statements listing all the documentary evidence that would be offered if the case went to trial. After the statements were filed, the court found the bulk of the evidence on which respondents relied was inadmissible, that the admissible evidence did not raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of the alleged conspiracy, and that any inference of conspiracy was unreasonable. Summary judgment therefore was granted in petitioners' favor. The Court of Appeals reversed. After determining that much of the evidence excluded by the District Court was admissible, the Court of Appeals held that the District Court erred in granting a summary judgment, and that there was both direct and circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy. Based on inferences drawn from the evidence, the Court of Appeals concluded that a reasonable factfinder could find a conspiracy to depress prices in the American market in order to drive out American competitors, which conspiracy was funded by excess profits obtained in the Japanese market.

Held. The Court of Appeals did not apply proper standards in evaluating the District Court's decision to grant petitioners' motion for summary judgment. Pp. 582-598.

(a) The "direct evidence" on which the Court of Appeals relied -- petitioners' alleged supracompetitive pricing in Japan, the "five-company

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rule" by which each Japanese producer was permitted to sell only to five American distributors, and the "check-prices" (minimum prices fixed by agreement with the Japanese Government for CEPs exported to the United States) insofar as they established minimum prices in the United States -- cannot, by itself, give respondents a cognizable claim against petitioners for antitrust damages. Pp. 582-583.

(b) To survive petitioners' motion for a summary judgment, respondents must establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether petitioners entered into an illegal conspiracy that caused respondents to suffer a cognizable injury. If the factual context renders respondents' claims implausible, i.e., claims that make no economic sense, respondents must offer more persuasive evidence to support their claims than would otherwise be necessary. To survive a motion for a summary judgment, a plaintiff seeking damages for a violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act must present evidence "that tends to exclude the possibility" that the alleged conspirators acted independently. Thus, respondents here must show that the inference of a conspiracy is reasonable in light of the competing inferences of independent action or collusive action that could not have harmed respondents. Pp. 585-588.

(c) Predatory pricing conspiracies are, by nature, speculative. They require the conspirators to sustain substantial losses in order to recover uncertain gains. The alleged conspiracy is therefore implausible. Moreover, the record discloses that the alleged conspiracy has not succeeded in over two decades of operation. This is strong evidence that the conspiracy does not in fact exist. The possibility that petitioners have obtained supracompetitive profits in the Japanese market does not alter this assessment. Pp. 588-593.

(d) Mistaken inferences in cases such as this one are especially costly, because they chill the very conduct that the antitrust laws are designed to protect. There is little reason to be concerned that, by granting summary judgment in cases where the evidence of conspiracy is speculative or ambiguous, courts will encourage conspiracies. Pp. 593-595.

(e) The Court of Appeals erred in two respects: the "direct evidence" on which it relied had little, if any, relevance to the alleged predatory pricing conspiracy, and the court failed to consider the absence of a plausible motive to engage in predatory pricing. In the absence of any rational motive to conspire, neither petitioners' pricing practices, their conduct in the Japanese market, nor their agreements respecting prices and distributions in the American market sufficed to create a "genuine issue for trial" under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e). On remand, the Court of Appeals may consider whether there is other, unambiguous evidence of the alleged conspiracy. Pp. 595-598.

723 F.2d 238, reversed and remanded.

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POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and MARSHALL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 598.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires that we again consider the standard district courts must apply [106 S.Ct. 1351] when deciding whether to grant summary judgment in an antitrust conspiracy case.

I

Stating the facts of this case is a daunting task. The opinion of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit runs to 69 pages; the primary opinion of the District Court is more than three times as long. In re Japanese Electronic Products

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Antitrust Litigation, 723 F.2d 238 (CA3 1983); 513 F.Supp. 1100 (ED Pa.1981). Two respected District Judges each have authored a number of opinions in this case; the published ones alone would fill an entire volume of the Federal Supplement. In addition, the parties have filed a 40-volume appendix in this Court that is said to contain the essence of the evidence on which the District Court and the Court of Appeals based their respective decisions.

We will not repeat what these many opinions have stated and restated, or summarize the mass of documents that constitute the record on appeal. Since we review only the standard applied by the Court of Appeals in deciding this case, and not the weight assigned to particular pieces of evidence, we find it unnecessary to state the facts in great detail. What follows is a summary of this case's long history.

A

Petitioners, defendants below, are 21 corporations that manufacture or sell "consumer electronic products" (CEPs) -- for the most part, television sets. Petitioners include both Japanese manufacturers of CEPs and American firms, controlled by Japanese parents, that sell the Japanese-manufactured products. Respondents, plaintiffs below, are Zenith Radio Corporation (Zenith) and National Union Electric Corporation (NUE). Zenith is an American firm that manufactures and sells television sets. NUE is the corporate successor to Emerson Radio Company, an American firm that manufactured and sold television sets until 1970, when it withdrew from the market after sustaining substantial losses. Zenith and NUE began this lawsuit in 1974,1 claiming that petitioners had illegally conspired to drive

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American firms from the American CEP market. According to respondents, the gist of this conspiracy was a

"scheme to raise, fix and maintain artificially high prices for television receivers sold by [petitioners] in Japan and, at the same time, to fix and maintain low prices for television receivers exported to and sold in the United States."

723 F.2d at 251 (quoting respondents' preliminary pretrial memorandum). These "low prices" were allegedly at levels that produced substantial losses for petitioners. 513 F.Supp. at 1125. The conspiracy allegedly began as early as 1953, and, according to respondents, was in full operation by sometime in the late 1960's. Respondents claimed that various portions of this scheme violated §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, § 2(a) of the Robinson-Patman Act, § 73 of the Wilson Tariff Act, and the Antidumping Act of 1916.

After several years of detailed discovery, petitioners filed motions for summary judgment on all claims against them. The District Court directed the parties to file, with preclusive effect, "Final Pretrial Statements" listing all the documentary evidence that would be offered if the case proceeded to trial. Respondents filed such a statement, and petitioners responded with a series of motions challenging the admissibility of respondents' evidence. In three detailed opinions, the District Court found the bulk of the evidence on which Zenith and NUE relied inadmissible.2

[106 S.Ct. 1352] The District Court then turned to petitioners' motions for summary judgment. In an opinion spanning 217 pages, the court found that the admissible evidence did not raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of the alleged

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conspiracy. At bottom, the court found, respondents' claims...

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