Comet Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. E. A. Cowen Const., Inc.

Decision Date07 January 1980
Docket NumberNo. 78-1131,78-1131
Citation609 F.2d 404
Parties1980-1 Trade Cases 63,121 COMET MECHANICAL CONTRACTORS, INC., an Oklahoma Corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. E. A. COWEN CONSTRUCTION, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Robert W. Pittman, Oklahoma City, Okl., for plaintiff-appellant.

John J. Griffin, Jr. of Crowe, Dunlevy, Thweatt, Swinford, Johnson & Burdick, Oklahoma City, Okl. (with William G. Paul of Crowe, Dunlevy, Thweatt, Swinford, Johnson & Burdick, Oklahoma City, Okl., and Richard N. Steed of Steed & Bushong, Shawnee, Okl., on the brief), for defendant-appellee E. A. Cowen Construction, Inc.

James W. Bill Berry, Oklahoma City, Okl., for defendant-appellee Wattie Wolfe Co.

Before McWILLIAMS, DOYLE and McKAY, Circuit Judges.

McKAY, Circuit Judge.

Comet Mechanical Contractors, Inc. (Comet), a mechanical subcontractor, brought this suit for treble damages under federal antitrust laws, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 Et seq., against several construction contractors and the then Governor of Oklahoma. The suit charges the defendants with conspiring to rig bids for the construction of two public buildings. Comet claims that bid prices were fixed high enough to allow the defendants to force suppliers and subcontractors, such as Comet, to provide a "kickback" for the use of the Governor. Despite an oral promise, E. A. Cowen Construction, Inc. (Cowen), the successful bidder, refused to award the subcontract for mechanical work to Comet, allegedly because Comet failed to respond to a $100,000 request for the use of the Governor. The court below granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Comet does not satisfy the standing requirements of the antitrust laws. We affirm.

Clearly, as Comet states, summary judgment should be invoked cautiously, Gragg v. Travelers Insurance Co., 459 F.2d 418, 421 (10th Cir. 1972), particularly when antitrust issues are involved. 1 Hospital Building Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hospital, 425 U.S. 738, 746, 96 S.Ct. 1848, 48 L.Ed.2d 338 (1976). Summary judgment is available in antitrust cases only when the facts are developed and the legal issues are clearly presented. See Nationwide Auto Appraiser Service, Inc. v. Association of Casualty & Surety Cos., 382 F.2d 925, 929 (10th Cir. 1967). Nonetheless, the Rules of Civil Procedure apply in antitrust cases and summary judgment is available to avoid needless trials, which may entail a heavy burden of expense and effort for both the litigants and the judicial system. Farnell v. Albuquerque Publishing Co., 589 F.2d 497, 502 (10th Cir. 1978).

Assuming all the facts to be as alleged, we find that, although Comet may have a cause of action for breach of contract, it cannot obtain "the windfall of treble damages." Conference of Studio Unions v. Loew's Inc., 193 F.2d 51, 55 (9th Cir. 1951), Cert. denied, 342 U.S. 919, 72 S.Ct. 367, 96 L.Ed. 687 (1952). This court laid out the test for standing under the antitrust laws in Farnell v. Albuquerque Publishing Co., 589 F.2d 497 (10th Cir. 1978):

To establish standing to maintain a private antitrust action in this Circuit, a plaintiff must meet a two-pronged test. First, he must allege injury to his "business or property" within the meaning of the Act and, second, he must show proximate causation that the injury directly resulted from a violation of the antitrust laws.

Id. at 500. The second prong of the Farnell test, the one which Comet fails to satisfy, is expanded in Reibert v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 471 F.2d 727 (10th Cir.), Cert. denied, 411 U.S. 938, 93 S.Ct. 1900, 36 L.Ed.2d 399 (1973).

Antitrust violations admittedly create foreseeable ripples of injury to individual stockholders, consumers and employees, but the law has not allowed all of these standing to sue for treble damages. The aggrieved party must satisfy the "by reason of" and/or "by" requirements found in (the antitrust statutes). This prerequisite boils down to complainant proving that the antitrust violations are the proximate cause of his injury. Two elements are necessary to demonstrate proximate cause: (1) there is a causal connection between an antitrust violation and an injury sufficient to establish the violation as a substantial factor in the occurrence of damage; and (2) that the illegal act is linked to a plaintiff engaged in activities intended to be protected by the antitrust laws.

Id. at 731 (citations omitted).

While Comet's allegations fall short of establishing both elements of the proximate cause test stated in Reibert, we need only discuss the second whether the plaintiff's activities are within the intended protection of the antitrust laws. See Harman v. Valley National Bank, 339 F.2d 564, 567 (9th Cir. 1964); Productive Inventions, Inc. v. Trico Products Corp., 224 F.2d 678, 679 (2d Cir. 1955), Cert. denied, 350 U.S. 936, 76 S.Ct. 301, 100 L.Ed. 818 (1956). In Reibert, we concluded that only buyers and sellers in the defendants' market are within the target of the antitrust laws. Consequently, an employee whose job was eliminated as a result of an allegedly illegal merger could not recover treble damages because the antitrust violation was directed toward his employer's competitors and not toward employees. 471 F.2d at 731. "(T)he rule is that one who is only Incidentally injured by a violation of the antitrust laws, the bystander who was hit but not aimed at, cannot recover against the violator." Karseal Corp. v. Richfield Oil Corp., 221 F.2d...

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  • Tal v. Hogan
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • June 29, 2006
    ..."only buyers and sellers in the defendants' market are within the target of the antitrust laws." Comet Mech. Contractors, Inc. v. E.A. Cowen Constr., Inc., 609 F.2d 404, 406 (10th Cir.1980); see Reibert v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 471 F.2d 727, 731 (10th Cir.1973). This excludes secondary or......
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    ...an incidental result of anti-competitive activity in another segment of the economy * * *." Comet Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. E.A. Cowen Constr., Inc., 609 F.2d 404, 407 (10th Cir.1980). The loss of future revenues clearly flowed from the cancellation of the contract rather than from in......
  • Zenith Radio Corp. v. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.
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    • May 13, 1981
    ...and probative evidence of an antitrust violation, summary judgment is appropriate. See, e. g., Comet Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. E.A. Cowen Construction Inc., 609 F.2d 404 (10th Cir. 1980); Modern Home Institute, Inc. v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., 513 F.2d 102, 109-10 (2d Cir. 1......
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    • November 12, 2019
    ...Harbour Place I, LLC v. Ganim , supra, 303 Conn. at 218, 32 A.3d 296. We also cited Comet Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. E.A. Cowen Construction, Inc. , 609 F.2d 404, 406–407 (10th Cir. 1980), in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that an allegation that th......
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3 books & journal articles
  • Table of Cases
    • United States
    • ABA Antitrust Library Proving Antitrust Damages. Legal and Economic Issues. Third Edition Part III
    • December 8, 2017
    ...(2013), 4, 10, 13, 14, 53, 54, 88, 92, 98, 104, 125, 127, 215, 216, 217, 218, 222, 236, 283 Comet Mech. Contractors v. E.A. Cowen Constr., 609 F.2d 404 (10th Cir. 1980), 42 358 Proving Antitrust Damages Commercial Explosives Litig., In re , No. 96-cv-709S, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21829 (D. Ut......
  • New Jersey. Practice Text
    • United States
    • ABA Antitrust Library State Antitrust Practice and Statutes (FIFTH). Volume II
    • December 9, 2014
    ...direct enough to permit standing for a direct state antitrust action,” relying in part on Comet Mech. Contractors v. E.A. Cowen Constr. , 609 F.2d 404, 406 (10th Cir. 1980), in which a “subcontractor had no standing to sue contractor for conspiring to rig bids.” 184. JEM Mktg. v. Cellular T......
  • New Jersey
    • United States
    • ABA Archive Editions Library State Antitrust Practice and Statutes. Fourth Edition Volume II
    • January 1, 2009
    ...to permit standing for a direct state antitrust action,” relying in part on Comet Mechanical Contractors v. E.A. Cowen Construction , 609 F.2d 404, 406 (10th Cir. 1980), in which a “subcontractor had no standing to sue contractor for conspiring to rig bids.” 184. JEM Mktg. v. Cellular Telec......

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