479 U.S. 104 (1986), 85-473, Cargill, Inc. v. Monfort of Colorado, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 85-473
Citation:479 U.S. 104, 107 S.Ct. 484, 93 L.Ed.2d 427, 55 U.S.L.W. 4027
Party Name:Cargill, Inc. v. Monfort of Colorado, Inc.
Case Date:December 09, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 104

479 U.S. 104 (1986)

107 S.Ct. 484, 93 L.Ed.2d 427, 55 U.S.L.W. 4027

Cargill, Inc.

v.

Monfort of Colorado, Inc.

No. 85-473

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 9, 1986

Argued Oct. 6, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 16 of the Clayton Act entitles a private party to sue for injunctive relief against "threatened loss or damage by a violation of the antitrust laws." Respondent, the country's fifth-largest beef packer, brought an action in Federal District Court under § 16 to enjoin the proposed merger of petitioner Excel Corporation, the second-largest packer, and Spencer Beef, the third-largest packer. Respondent alleged that it was threatened with a loss of profits by the possibility that Excel, after the merger, would lower its prices to a level at or above its costs in an attempt to increase its market share. During trial, Excel moved for dismissal on the ground that respondent had failed to allege or show that it would suffer antitrust injury, but the District Court denied the motion. After trial, the District Court held that respondent's allegation of a "price-cost squeeze" that would severely narrow its profit margins constituted an allegation of antitrust injury. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that respondent's allegation of a "price-cost squeeze" was not simply one of injury from competition, but was a claim of injury by a form of predatory pricing in which Excel would drive other companies out of the market.

Held:

1. A private plaintiff seeking injunctive relief under § 16 must show a threat of injury "of the type the antitrust laws were designed to prevent and that flows from that which makes defendants' acts unlawful." Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat Inc., 429 U.S. 477, 489. Pp. 109-113.

2. The proposed merger does not constitute a threat of antitrust injury. A showing, as in this case, of loss or damage due merely to increased competition does not constitute such injury. And while predatory pricing is capable of inflicting antitrust injury, here respondent neither raised nor proved any claim of predatory pricing before the District Court, and thus the Court of Appeals erred in interpreting respondent's allegations as equivalent to allegations of injury from predatory conduct. Pp. 113-119.

3. This Court, however, will not adopt in effect a per se rule denying competitors standing to challenge acquisitions on the basis of predatory

Page 105

pricing theories. Nothing in the Clayton Act's language or legislative history suggests that Congress intended this Court to ignore injuries caused by such anticompetitive practices as predatory pricing. Pp. 120-122.

761 F.2d 570, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and MARSHALL, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a [107 S.Ct. 487] dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 122. BLACKMUN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under § 16 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 737, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 26, private parties "threatened [with] loss or damage by a violation of the antitrust laws" may seek injunctive relief. This case presents two questions: whether a plaintiff seeking relief under § 16 must prove a threat of antitrust injury, and, if so, whether loss or damage due to increased competition constitutes such injury.

Page 106

I

Respondent Monfort of Colorado, Inc. (Monfort), the plaintiff below, owns and operates three integrated beef-packing plants, that is, plants for both the slaughter of cattle and the fabrication of beef.1 Monfort operates in both the market for fed cattle (the input market) and the market for fabricated beef (the output market). These markets are highly competitive, and the profit margins of the major beef packers are low. The current markets are a product of two decades of intense competition, during which time packers with modern integrated plants have gradually displaced packers with separate slaughter and fabrication plants.

Monfort is the country's fifth-largest beef packer. Petitioner Excel Corporation (Excel), one of the two defendants below, is the second-largest packer. Excel operates five integrated plants and one fabrication plant. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cargill, Inc., the other defendant below, a large privately owned corporation with more than 150 subsidiaries in at least 35 countries.

On June 17, 1983, Excel signed an agreement to acquire the third-largest packer in the market, Spencer Beef, a division of the Land O'Lakes agricultural cooperative. Spencer Beef owned two integrated plants and one slaughtering plant. After the acquisition, Excel would still be the second-largest packer, but would command a market share almost equal to that of the largest packer, IBP, Inc. (IBP).2

Page 107

Monfort brought an action under § 16 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 26, to enjoin the proSpective merger.3 Its complaint alleged that the acquisition would

violat[e] Section 7 of the Clayton Act because the effect of the proposed acquisition may be substantially to lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly in several different ways. . . .

1 App. 19. Monfort described the injury that it allegedly would suffer in this way:

(f) Impairment of plaintiff's ability to compete. The proposed acquisition will result in a concentration of economic power in the relevant markets which threatens Monfort's supply of fed cattle and its ability to compete in the boxed beef market.

Id. at 20.

Upon agreement of the parties, the District Court consolidated the motion for a preliminary injunction with a full trial

Page 108

on the merits. On the second day of trial, Excel moved for involuntary dismissal on the ground, inter alia, that Monfort had failed to allege or show that it would suffer antitrust injury as defined in Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat Inc., 429 U.S. 477 (1977). The District Court denied the motion. After the trial, the court entered a memorandum opinion and order enjoining the proposed merger. The court held that Monfort's allegation of "price-cost `squeeze'" that would "severely narro[w]" Monfort's profit margins constituted an allegation of antitrust injury. 591 F.Supp. 683, 691-692 (Colo. 1983). It also held that Monfort had shown that the proposed merger would cause this profit squeeze to occur, and that the merger violated § 7 of the Clayton Act.4 Id. at 709-710.

On appeal, Excel argued that an allegation of lost profits due to a "price-cost squeeze" was nothing more than an allegation of losses due to vigorous competition, and that losses from competition do not constitute antitrust injury. It also argued that the District Court erred in analyzing the facts relevant to the § 7 inquiry. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment in all respects. It held that Monfort's allegation of a "price-cost squeeze" was not simply an allegation of injury from competition; in its view, the alleged "price-cost squeeze" was a claim that Monfort would be injured by what the Court of Appeals

consider[ed] to be a form of predatory pricing in which Excel will drive other companies out of the market by paying more to its cattle suppliers and charging less for boxed beef that it sells to institutional buyers and consumers.

761 F.2d 570, 575 (CA10 1985). On the § 7 issue, the Court of Appeals held that the District Court's decision was not clearly erroneous. We granted certiorari, 474 U.S. 1049 (1985).

Page 109

II

This case requires us to decide, at the outset, a question we have not previously addressed: whether a private plaintiff seeking an injunction under § 16 of the Clayton Act must show a threat of antitrust injury. To decide the question, we must look first to the source of the antitrust injury requirement, which lies in a related provision of the Clayton Act, § 4, 15 U.S.C. § 15.

Like § 16, § 4 provides a vehicle for private enforcement of the antitrust laws. Under § 4,

any person who shall be injured in his business or property by reason of anything forbidden in the antitrust laws may sue therefor in any district court of the United States . . . , and shall recover threefold the damages by him sustained, [107 S.Ct. 489] and the cost of suit, including a reasonable attorney's fee.

15 U.S.C. § 15. In Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., supra, we held that plaintiffs seeking treble damages under § 4 must show more than simply an "injury causally linked" to a particular merger; instead,

plaintiffs must prove antitrust injury, which is to say injury of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent and that flows from that which makes the defendants' acts unlawful.

Id. at 489 (emphasis in original). The plaintiffs in Brunswick did not prove such injury. The plaintiffs were 3 of the 10 bowling centers owned by a relatively small bowling chain. The defendant, one of the two largest bowling chains in the country, acquired several bowling centers located in the plaintiffs' market that would have gone out of business but for the acquisition. The plaintiffs sought treble damages under § 4, alleging as injury "the loss of income that would have accrued had the acquired centers gone bankrupt," and had competition in their markets consequently been reduced. Id. at 487. We held that this injury, although causally related to a merger alleged to violate § 7, was not an antitrust injury, since "[i]t is inimical to [the antitrust] laws to award damages" for losses stemming

Page 110

from continued competition. Id. at 488. This reasoning in Brunswick was consistent with the principle that "the antitrust laws . . . were enacted for `the protection of competition, not competitors.'" Ibid., quoting Brown Shoe Co. v. United States, 370 U.S. 294, 320 (1962) (emphasis...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP