555 F.2d 978 (D.C. Cir. 1977), 76-1023, United States v. National Soc. of Professional Engineers

Docket Nº76-1023.
Citation555 F.2d 978
Party NameUNITED STATES of America v. NATIONAL SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERS, Appellant.
Case DateMarch 14, 1977
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 978

555 F.2d 978 (D.C. Cir. 1977)

UNITED STATES of America

v.

NATIONAL SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERS, Appellant.

No. 76-1023.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 14, 1977

Page 979

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Argued Jan. 18, 1977.

Lee Loevinger, Washington, D.C., with whom Martin Michaelson, James H. Sneed and Janet L. McDavid, Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellant.

Robert B. Nicholson, Atty., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., with whom Susan J. Atkinson, Atty., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., was on the brief, for appellee. Laurence K. Gustafson, Atty., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., also entered an appearance for appellee.

Before WRIGHT, TAMM and LEVENTHAL, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge LEVENTHAL.

LEVENTHAL, Circuit Judge:

The U.S. Department of Justice presses this antitrust suit against the 65,000 member National Society of Professional Engineers. It claims that the Society's efforts to enforce Section 11(c) of its Code of Ethics, which prohibits any form of competitive bidding on engineering projects, 1 violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

Page 980

After extensive discovery and a trial, the district court found that the Society's actions had the requisite impact on interstate commerce, that the engineering profession was not entitled to an exemption from the antitrust laws, and that the Society's prohibition of competitive bidding, as a form of price-fixing, was a per se violation of the Sherman Act. The District Court's extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law are set out at 389 F.Supp. 1193.

That ruling was appealed directly to the Supreme Court under the then applicable statute. 2 No action was taken, however, until one week after the Supreme Court's decision in Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773, 95 S.Ct. 2004, 44 L.Ed.2d 572 (1975), when the Court vacated and remanded the district court's ruling for reconsideration in light of Goldfarb. 422 U.S. 1031, 95 S.Ct. 2646, 45 L.Ed.2d 686 (1975). After reargument, the district court issued a second opinion, reported at 404 F.Supp. 457. The district court viewed the Goldfarb decision, which held unlawful minimum fee schedules for legal services, as supportive of its original determination of illegality, and therefore reaffirmed its earlier findings and conclusions. The district court then entered judgment enjoining the defendant from adopting any rule or policy statement which in any way prohibits or discourages the submission of price quotations or states or implies that price competition is unethical and further ordered the defendant "to state in any publication of its Code of Ethics that the submission of price quotations for engineering services at any time and in any amount is not considered an unethical practice."

On appeal, defendant contends, inter alia, that the Supreme Court's opinion in Goldfarb leaves room for restraints on competition among professionals where those restraints serve a reasonable objective, and that the prohibition on price competition among consulting engineers is justified by the peculiar nature of the services they provide. In particular, defendant argues that the impossibility of formulating precise specifications for many engineering tasks requires that engineers engage in extensive consultation and planning with the purchaser before making a price estimate. Evils are inherent, it is said, in estimates that can only be guesses. An engineer who is forced to bid competitively on the basis of a buyer's general requirements will be under pressure that will tend to encourage optimism and mistake, and possibly cunning, all thrusting him toward an unreasonably low bid. Later, in order to avoid disastrous losses, the engineer may try to pressure the purchaser into renegotiating the contract or, failing that, may cut corners, to the disadvantage of the client and in all likelihood the public. In sum, defendant argues that a ban on competitive bidding is necessary to prevent deception and poor execution. Defendant also challenges the relief granted by the district court as overbroad and violative of defendant's First Amendment rights.

A.

We hold that the district court's findings of fact were not clearly erroneous. We

Page 981

affirm and approve the district court's ultimate conclusion of law. We are in agreement with most of the legal reasoning of the district court, and have identified critical passages in the margin. 3

Price is the "central nervous system of the economy," United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 226 n.59, 60 S.Ct. 811, 845, 84 L.Ed. 1129 (1940). Defendant's prohibition of competitive bidding, by blocking the free flow of price information, strikes at the functioning of the free market.

The Society may not have engaged in direct price fixing as such, but its prohibition of free price competition is not far removed, in both legal and practical consequence.

Society counsel urges that the district court erred in applying a "per se" rule and

Page 982

that the latest decisions of the Supreme Court require a more individual probing of the practice assailed, in the particular factual context. This is a false trail. To some extent, a rule that operates to prevent price competition stands at least presumptively condemned in a way that does not apply to other kinds of trade practice rules.

On its face the Society rule before us had a universal sweep, prohibiting all price competition, and on its face the rule is presumptively condemned. The district court did not take the rule solely on its face, and reach a condemnatory result merely because of an unfortunate use of language. It assessed the rule by taking into account how it had operated in fact, and with what practical anti-competitive consequences.

The Society is vexed because the district court did not make findings on its massive evidence, including its 17 expert witnesses, filling the bulk of a joint appendix of 10,000 pages. There was no need for the district court to embark on protracted findings on matters that it considered, in the last analysis, to be unavailing as a defense. Sound antitrust doctrine did not require a simulation of a "cost-benefit ratio" analysis, or a "balancing" of the benefits accruing from competitive restraints of this nature.

B.

We interject here to respond to the contention of counsel for the Society this is not a matter for independent analysis of sound antitrust doctrine, and that the case is controlled by the Supreme Court's action on this very case in the wake of its Goldfarb ruling. The contention is that because this case was not affirmed by the Supreme Court on its prior visit, but was remanded for further consideration in the light of Goldfarb, the total implication was that the decree should be reversed. We see no warrant for this speculative reconstruction. The Supreme Court had just decided Goldfarb; instead of taking the time to engage in a detailed study of cases involving closely related issues, it requested the district court to do so. The district court did so, and it concluded that although Goldfarb was not a square holding absolutely in point its major thrust was in accord with the district court's decree. We think this was a sound discernment of Goldfarb and its radiations.

C.

We do not say or imply that there is no room in antitrust law for ethical rules of practice for the learned professions, to prevent harm to the lay consumer and general public. What we do say is that the rationalization offered by the Society does not justify the broad ban on all competitive bidding which the Society has attempted to enforce. 4 Section 11(c) has been stolidly applied as a block governing any and all engineering services associated with the study, design, and construction of real property improvements. It does not take into account the sophistication of the purchaser, the complexity of the project, or the procedures for evaluating price information. It forbids the premature disclosure of all types of fee information including cost estimates based on man-days of work and percentage of construction cost. The only exception to its broad prohibition concerns fee schedules recommended by the state society.

Page 983

The full thrust of the defendant's prohibition is sharply etched in the findings of the district court. The district court found that in 1970, the Department of Defense attempted to test a new procedure for the selection of architectural-engineering firms which would include an element of price competition. Under this procedure, prequalified engineering firms were invited to submit two sealed envelopes separately containing a technical proposal and a non-binding price estimate. The technical proposals were to be opened and evaluated by a selection board on the basis of their technical competence. Then the envelopes containing the price estimates were to be opened and a determination made as to whether price considerations warranted a change in the ratings of the proposals. The test procedure was to be conducted for a period of only one year, and in only two military construction districts. Despite the relative...

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14 practice notes
  • 433 F.Supp. 1006 (E.D.Mich. 1977), Crim. 680941, United States v. Nu-Phonics, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit
    • June 20, 1977
    ...members by competitive bidding also was held to be a price-fixing agreement. United States v. National Society of Professional Engineers, 555 F.2d 978 (D.C. Cir. On the other hand, the existence of price uniformity among competitors, is not, in itself, sufficient evidence of price-fixing. N......
  • ANTITRUST AS SPEECH CONTROL.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 60 Nbr. 4, March 2019
    • March 1, 2019
    ...of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557, 564-65 (1980)). (40.) Cent. Hudson, 447 U.S. at 566. (41.) SMOLLA, supra note 5, [section] 2.5 at 2-88.5. (42.) 555 F.2d 978 (D.C. Cir. 1977), aff'd, 435 U.S. 679 (43.) 939 F.2d 547 (8th Cir. 1991), cert, denied, 502 U.S. 1097 (1992). (44.) Natl Soc'y of Prof'l Eng'rs......
  • 435 U.S. 679 (1978), 76-1767, National Society of Professional Engineers v. United States
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1978
    ...objective of preventing deceptively low bids, it may move the District Court to modify its injunction. Pp. 698-699. 181 U.S.App.D.C. 41, 555 F.2d 978, STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and III of which......
  • 431 F.Supp. 298 (E.D.Va. 1977), Civ. A. 76-0180, Surety Title Ins. Agency, Inc. v. Virginia State Bar
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit
    • April 25, 1977
    ...such practices are "narrowly confined to interdiction of abuses." United States v. National Society of Professional Engineers, 555 F.2d 978 at 984, No. 76-1023 (D.C.Cir.1977). From these cases, the Court cautiously discerns the following analytical principles applicable to the ins......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • 433 F.Supp. 1006 (E.D.Mich. 1977), Crim. 680941, United States v. Nu-Phonics, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit
    • June 20, 1977
    ...members by competitive bidding also was held to be a price-fixing agreement. United States v. National Society of Professional Engineers, 555 F.2d 978 (D.C. Cir. On the other hand, the existence of price uniformity among competitors, is not, in itself, sufficient evidence of price-fixing. N......
  • 435 U.S. 679 (1978), 76-1767, National Society of Professional Engineers v. United States
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1978
    ...objective of preventing deceptively low bids, it may move the District Court to modify its injunction. Pp. 698-699. 181 U.S.App.D.C. 41, 555 F.2d 978, STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and III of which......
  • 431 F.Supp. 298 (E.D.Va. 1977), Civ. A. 76-0180, Surety Title Ins. Agency, Inc. v. Virginia State Bar
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit
    • April 25, 1977
    ...such practices are "narrowly confined to interdiction of abuses." United States v. National Society of Professional Engineers, 555 F.2d 978 at 984, No. 76-1023 (D.C.Cir.1977). From these cases, the Court cautiously discerns the following analytical principles applicable to the ins......
  • 433 U.S. 350 (1977), 76-316, Bates v. State Bar of Arizona
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Supreme Court
    • June 27, 1977
    ...v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 221-222 (1940); United States v. National Society of Professional Engineers, 181 U.S.App.D.C. 41, 555 F.2d 978 (1977) (ethical prohibition on members of society from submitting competitive bids for engineering services violates Sherman [8] See also He......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • ANTITRUST AS SPEECH CONTROL.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 60 Nbr. 4, March 2019
    • March 1, 2019
    ...of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557, 564-65 (1980)). (40.) Cent. Hudson, 447 U.S. at 566. (41.) SMOLLA, supra note 5, [section] 2.5 at 2-88.5. (42.) 555 F.2d 978 (D.C. Cir. 1977), aff'd, 435 U.S. 679 (43.) 939 F.2d 547 (8th Cir. 1991), cert, denied, 502 U.S. 1097 (1992). (44.) Natl Soc'y of Prof'l Eng'rs......