American Medical Ass v. United States Medical Society of the District of Columbia v. Same 11 8212 14, 1942

Decision Date18 January 1943
Docket NumberNos. 201,202,s. 201
Citation317 U.S. 519,63 S.Ct. 326,87 L.Ed. 434
PartiesAMERICAN MEDICAL ASS'N v. UNITED STATES. MEDICAL SOCIETY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. SAME. Argued Dec. 11—14, 1942
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Seth W. Richardson and William E. Leahy, both of Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

Messrs. Thurman W. Arnold, Asst. Atty. Gen., and John Henry Lewin, Sp. Asst. to Atty. Gen., for respondent.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 520-525 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners have been indicted and convicted of conspiring to violate § 3 of the Sherman Act,1 by restraining trade or commerce in the District of Columbia. They are respectively corporations of Illinois and of the District of Columbia. Joined with them as defendants were two unincorporated associations and twenty-one individuals, some of whom are officers or employes of one or other of the petitioners, the remainder being physicians practicing in the District of Columbia and members of the petitioners serving, as to some of them, on various committees of the petitioners having to do with professional ethics and with the practice of medicine by petitioners' members.

For the moment it is enough to say that the indictment charged a conspiracy to hinder and obstruct the operations of Group Health Association, Inc., a nonprofit corporation organized by Government employes to provide medical care and hospitalization on a risk-sharing prepayment basis. Group Health employed physicians on a full time salary basis and sought hospital facilities for the treatment of members and their families. This plan was contrary to the code of ethics of the petitioners. The in- dictment charges that, to prevent Group Health from carrying out its objects, the defendants conspired to coerce practicing physicians, members of the petitioners, from accepting employment under Group Health, to restrain practicing physicians, members of the petitioners, from consulting with Group Health's doctors who might desire to consult with them, and to restrain hospitals in and about the City of Washington from affording facilities for the care of patients of Group Health's physicians.

The District Court sustained a demurrer to the indictment on the grounds, amongst others, that neither the practice of medicine nor the business of Group Health is trade as the term is used in the Sherman Act.2 On appeal the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the restraint of trade prohibited by the statute may extend both to medical practice and to the operations of Group Health.3

The case then went to trial in the District Court. Certain defendants were acquitted by direction of the judge. As to the others, the case was submitted to the jury which found the petitioners guilty, and all the other defendants not guilty. From judgments of conviction the petitioners appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reiterated its ruling as to the applicability of § 3 of the Sherman Act, considered alleged trial errors, and affirmed the judgments.4

We granted certiorari limited to three questions which we thought important: 1. Whether the practice of medicine and the rendering of medical services as described in the indictment are 'trade' under § 3 of the Sherman Act. 2. Whether the indictment charged or the evidence proved 'restraints of trade' under § 3 of the Sherman Act. 3. Whether a dispute concerning terms and conditions of employment under the Clayton and Norris-LaGuardia Acts was involved, and, if so, whether petitioners were interested therein, and therefore immune from prosecution under the Sherman Act.

First. Much argument has been addressed to the question whether a physician's practice of his profession constitutes trade under § 3 of the Sherman Act. In the light of what we shall say with respect to the charge laid in the indictment, we need not consider or decide this question.

Group Health is a membership corporation engaged in business or trade. Its corporate activity is the consummation of the cooperative effort of its members to obtain for themselves and their families medical service and hospitalization on a risk-sharing prepayment basis. The corporation collects its funds from members. With these funds physicians are employed and hospitalization procured on behalf of members and their dependents. The fact that it is cooperative, and procures service and facilities on behalf of its members only, does not remove its activities from the sphere of business.5

If, as we hold, the indictment charges a single conspiracy to restrain and obstruct this business it charges a conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce within the statute. As the Court of Appeals properly remarked, the calling or occupation of the individual physicians charged as defendants is immaterial if the purpose and effect of their conspiracy was such obstruction and restraint of the business of Group Health. The court said:6 'And of course, the fact that defendants are physicians and medical organizations is of no significance, for Sec. 3 prohibits 'any person' from imposing the proscribed restraint. * * *' It is urged that this was said before this court decided Apex Hosiery Co. v. Leader, 310 U.S. 469, 60 S.Ct. 982, 84 L.Ed. 1311, 128 A.L.R. 1044. But nothing in that decision contradicts the proposition stated. Whether the conspiracy was aimed at restraining or destroying competition, or had as its purpose a restraint of the free availability of medical or hospital services in the market, the Apex case places it within the scope of the statute.7

Second. This brings us to consider whether the indictment charged, or the evidence proved, such a conspiracy in restraint of trade. The allegations of the indictment are lengthy and detailed. After naming and describing the defendants and the Washington hospitals, it devotes many paragraphs to a recital of the plan adopted by Group Health and alleges that, principally for economic reasons, and because of fear of business competition, the defendants have opposed such projects.

The indictment then recites the size and importance of the petitioners, enumerates means by which they can prevent their members from serving Group Health plans, or consulting with physicians who work for Group Health, and can prevent hospitals from affording facilities to Group Health's doctors.

In charging the conspiracy, the indictment describes the organization and operation of Group Health and states that, from January 1937 to the date of the indictment, the defendants, the Washington hospitals, and others cognizant of the premised facts, 'have combined and conspired together for the purpose of restraining trade in the District of Columbia, * * *.' In five paragraphs the pleading states the purposes of the conspiracy. The first is the purpose of restraining Group Health from doing business; the second, that of restraining members of Group Health from obtaining adequate medical care according to Group Health's plan; the third, that of restraining doctors serving Group Health in the pursuit of their calling; the fourth, that of restraining doctors not on Group Health's staff from practicing in the District of Columbia in pursuance of their calling; and the fifth, that of restraining the Washington hospitals in the business of operating their hospitals.

After reciting certain of the proceedings and plans adopted to forward the conspiracy, spiracy, the indictment alleges that the conspiracy, and the intended restraints which have resulted from it, have been effectuated 'in the following manner and by the following means'; and alleges that the defendants have combined and conspired 'with the plan and purpose to hinder and obstruct Group Health Association, Inc. in procuring and retaining on its medical staff qualified doctors and to hinder and obstruct the doctors serving on that staff from obtaining consultations with other doctors and specialists practicing in the District of Columbia.' It states that, pursuant to this plan and purpose, the defendants have resorted to certain means to accomplish the end, and recounts them.

In another paragraph, the defendants are charged to have conspired with 'the plan and purpose to hinder and obstruct Group Health Association, Inc. in obtaining access to hospital facilities for its members and to hinder and obstruct the doctors on the medical staff of Group Health from treating and operating on their patients in Washington hospitals.' It is alleged that, pursuant to this plan and purpose, defendants have done certain acts to deter hospitals with which they were connected and over which they exercised influence, from affording hospital facilities to Group Health's doctors.

The petitioners' contention is, in effect, that the indictment charges five separate conspiracies defined by their separate and recited purposes, namely, conspiracy to obstruct the business of Group Health, to obstruct its members from obtaining the benefit of its activities, to obstruct its doctors from serving it, to obstruct other doctors in the practice of their calling, and to restrain the business of Washington hospitals. The petitioners say that they were entitled to have the trial court rule upon the sufficiency in law of each of these charges and, as this was not done, the general verdict of guilty cannot stand. They urge that even though some of the named purposes relate to the business of Group Health, and that business be held trade within the meaning of the statute, yet, as the practice of medicine by doctors not employed by Group Health is not trade, and the operations of Washington hospitals are not trade, the last two purposes specified cannot constitute violations of § 3 and the jury should have been so instructed. In this view they insist that the jury may have convicted them of restraining physicians unconnected with Group Health, or of restraining hospitals, and, if so, the verdict and judgment cannot stand.

If in fact the...

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