California Motor Transport Co v. Trucking Unlimited 8212 92

Decision Date13 January 1972
Docket NumberNo. 70,70
PartiesCALIFORNIA MOTOR TRANSPORT CO. et al., Petitioners, v. TRUCKING UNLIMITED et al. —92
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondent highway carriers filed this civil action under § 4 of the Clayton Act for injunctive relief and damages against petitioner highway carriers charging that petitioners conspired to monopolize the transportation of goods by instituting state and federal proceedings to resist and defeat applications by respondents to acquire, transfer, or register operating rights. Respondents alleged that the purpose of the conspiracy was 'putting their competitors . . . out of business, of weakening such competitors, of destroying, eliminating and weakening existing and potential competition, and of monopolizing the highway common carrier business in California and elsewhere,' and deterring respondents from having free and unlimited access to the agencies and the courts. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action but the Court of Appeals reversed. Held: While any carrier has the right of access to administrative agencies and courts to defeat applications of competitors for certificates as highway carriers, and its purpose to eliminate an applicant as a competitor may be implicit in such opposition, its First Amendment rights are not immunized from regulation when they are used as an integral part of conduct violative of the antitrust laws. If the allegations that petitioner combined to harass and deter respondents from having 'free and unlimited access' to agencies and courts, and to defeat that right by massive, concerted and purposeful group activities are established as facts, a violation of the antitrust laws will have been demonstrated, and it is immaterial that the means used in violation may be lawful. Pp. 509—516.

432 F.2d 755, affirmed and remanded for trial.

Boris H. Lakustav, San Francisco, Cal., for petitioners.

Michael N. Khourie, San Francisco, Cal., for respondents.

Opinion of the Court by Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, announced by Mr. Chief Justice BURGER.

This is a civil suit under § 4 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 731, 15 U.S.C. § 15, for injunctive relief and damages instituted by respondents, who are highway carriers operating in California, against petitioners, who are also highway carriers operating within, into, and from California. Respondents and petitioners are, in other words, competitors. The charge is that the petitioners conspired to monopolize trade and commerce in the transportation of goods in violation of the antitrust laws. The conspiracy alleged is a concerted action by petitioners to institute state and federal proceedings to resist and defeat applications by respondents to acquire operating rights or to transfer or register those rights. These activities, it is alleged, extend to rehearings and to reviews or appeals from agency or court decisions on these matters.

The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, 1967 Trade Cas. 72,298. The Court of Appeals reversed, 432 F.2d 755. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari, which we granted. 402 U.S. 1008, 91 S.Ct. 2188, 29 L.Ed.2d 429.

The present case is akin to Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight Inc., 365 U.S. 127, 81 S.Ct. 523, 5 L.Ed.2d 464, where a group of trucking companies sued a group of railroads to restrain them from an alleged conspiracy to monopolize the long-distance freight business in violation of the antitrust laws and to obtain damages. We held that no cause of action was alleged insofar as it was predicated upon mere attempts to influence the Legislative Branch for the passage of laws or the Executive Branch for their enforcement. We rested our decision on two grounds:

(1) 'In a representative democracy such as this, these branches of government act on behalf of the people and, to a very large extent, the whole concept of representation depends upon the ability of the people to make their wishes known to their representatives. To hold that the government retains the power to act in this representative capacity and yet hold, at the same time, that the people cannot freely inform the government of their wishes would impute to the Sherman Act a purpose to regulate, not business activity, but political activity, a purpose which would have no basis whatever in the legislative history of that Act.' Id., at 137, 81 S.Ct., at 529.

(2) 'The right of petition is one of the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, and we cannot, of course, lightly impute to Congress an intent to invade these freedoms.' Id., at 138, 81 S.Ct., at 530.

We followed that view in United Mine Workers v. Pennington, 381 U.S. 657, 669—671, 85 S.Ct. 1585, 1592—1594, 14 L.Ed.2d 626.

The same philosophy governs the approach of citizens or groups of them to administrative agencies (which are both creatures of the legislature, and arms of the executive) and to courts, the third branch of Government. Certainly the right to petition extends to all departments of the Government. The right of access to the courts is indeed but one aspect of the right of petition. See Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 485, 89 S.Ct. 747, 748, 21 L.Ed.2d 718; Ex parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546, 549, 61 S.Ct. 640, 641, 85 L.Ed. 1034.

We conclude that it would be destructive of rights of association and of petition to hold that groups with common interests may not, without violating the antitrust laws, use the channels and procedures of state and federal agencies and courts to advocate their causes and points of view respecting resolution of their business and economic interests vis-a -vis their competitors.

We said, however, in Noerr that there may be instances where the alleged conspiracy 'is a mere sham to cover what is actually nothing more than an attempt to interfere directly with the business relationships of a competitor and the application of the Sherman Act would be justified.' 365 U.S., at 144, 81 S.Ct., at 533.

In that connection the complaint in the present case alleged that the aim and purpose of the conspiracy was 'putting their competitors, including plaintiff, out of business, of weakening such competitors, of destroying, eliminating and weakening existing and potential competition, and of monopolizing the highway common carriage business in California and elsewhere.'

More critical are other allegations, which are too lengthy to quote, and which elaborate on the 'sham' theory by stating that the power, strategy, and resources of the petitioners were used to harass and deter respondents in their use of administrative and judicial proceedings so as to deny them 'free and unlimited access' to those tribunals. The result, it is alleged, was that the machinery of the agencies and the courts was effectively closed to respondents, and petitioners indeed became 'the regulators of the grants of rights, transfers and registrations' to respondents—thereby depleting and diminishing the value of the businesses of respondents and aggrandizing petitioners' economic and monopoly power. See Note, 57 Calif.L.Rev. 518 (1969).

Petitioners rely on our statement in Pennington that 'Noerr shields from the Sherman Act a concerted effort to influence public officials regardless of intent of purpose.' 381 U.S., at 670, 85 S.Ct., at 1593. In the present case, however the allegations are not that the conspirators sought 'to influence public officials,' but that they sought to bar their competitors from meaningful access to adjudicatory tribunals and so to usurp that decisionmaking process. It is alleged that petitioners 'instituted the proceedings and actions . . . with or without probable cause, and regardless of the merits of the cases.' The nature of the views pressed does not, of course, determine whether First Amendment rights may be invoked; but they may bear upon a purpose to deprive the competitors of meaningful access to the agencies and courts. As stated in the opinion concurring in the judgment, such a purpose or intent, if shown, would be 'to discourage and ultimately to prevent the respondents from invoking' the processes of the administrative agencies and courts and thus fall within the exception to Noerr.

The political campaign operated by the railroads in Noerr to obtain legislation crippling truckers employed deception and misrepresentation and unethical tactics. We said:

'Congress has traditionally exercised extreme caution in legislating with respect to problems relating to the conduct of political activities, a caution which has been reflected in the decisions of this Court interpreting such legislation. All of this caution would go for naught if we permitted an extension of the Sherman Act to regulate activities of that nature simply because those activities have a commercial impact and involve conduct that can be termed unethical.' 365 U.S., at 141, 81 S.Ct., at 531.

Yet unethical conduct in the setting of the adjudicatory process often results in sanctions. Perjury of witnesses is one example. Use of a patent obtained by fraud to exclude a competitor from the market may involve a violation of the antitrust laws, as we held in Walker Process Equipment, Inc. v. Food Machinery & Chemical Corp., 382 U.S. 172, 175—177, 86 S.Ct. 347, 349—350, 15 L.Ed.2d 247. Conspiracy with a licensing authority to eliminate a competitor may also result in an antitrust transgression. Continental Ore Co. v. Union Carbide & Carbon Corp., 370 U.S. 690, 707, 82 S.Ct. 1404, 1414, 8 L.Ed.2d 777; Harman v. Valley National Bank, 339 F.2d 564 (CA9 1964). Similarly, bribery of a public purchasing agent may constitute a violation of § 2(c) of the Clayton Act, as amended by the Robinson-Patman Act. Rangen, Inc. v. Sterling Nelson & Sons, 351 F.2d 851 (CA9 1965).

There are many other forms of illegal and reprehensible practice which may corrupt the administrative or judicial processes and which...

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