Otter Tail Power Company v. United States 8212 991, No. 71

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDOUGLAS
Citation35 L.Ed.2d 359,93 S.Ct. 1022,410 U.S. 366
Decision Date22 February 1973
Docket NumberNo. 71
PartiesOTTER TAIL POWER COMPANY, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES. —991

35 L.Ed.2d 359
93 S.Ct. 1022
410 U.S. 366
OTTER TAIL POWER COMPANY, Appellant,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 71—991.
Argued Dec. 5, 1972.
Decided Feb. 22, 1973.
Rehearing Denied Mar. 26, 1973.

See 411 U.S. 910, 93 S.Ct. 1523.

Syllabus

In this Sherman Act suit, brought byb the Government, the District Court enjoined as violative of § 2 the following practices in which appellant, Otter Tail Power Co. (Otter Tail), engaged to prevent towns from establishing their own power systems when Otter Tail's retail franchises expired: refusals to wholesale power to the municipal systems or transfer ('wheel') it over Otter Tail's facilities from other sources, litigation intended to delay establishment of municipal systems, and invocation of transmission contract provisions to forestall supplying by other power companies. Held:

1. Otter Tail is not insulated from antitrust regulation by reason of the Federal Power Act, whose legislative history manifests no purpose to make the antitrust laws inapplicable to power companies. The essential thrust of the authority of the Federal Power Commission (FPC) is to encourage voluntary interconnections. Though the FPC may order interconnections if 'necessary or appropriate in the public interest' antitrust considerations, though relevant under that standard, are not determinative. Pp. 372—375.

2. The District Court's decree does not conflict with the regulatory responsibilities of the FPC. Pp. 375—377.

(a) The court's order for wheeling to correct Otter Tail's anticompetitive and monopolistic practices is not counter to the authority of the FPC, which lacks the power to impose such a requirement. Pp. 375—376.

(b) Appellant's argument that the decree overrides FPC's power over interconnections is premature, there being no present conflict between the court's decree and any contrary ruling by the FPC. Pp. 376—377.

3. The record supports the District Court's findings that Otter Tail—Solely to prevent the municipal systems from eroding its monopolistic position—refused to sell at wholesale or to wheel, and that Otter Tail to the same end invoked restrictive provisions in its contracts with the Bureau of Reclamation and other suppliers, the court correctly concluding that such provisions, per se, violated the Sherman Act. Pp. 377—379.

Page 367

4. The District Court should determine on remand whether the litigation that Otter Tail was found to have instituted for the purpose of maintaining its monopolistic position was 'a mere sham' within the meaning of Eastern Railroad Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight, 365 U.S. 127, 81 S.Ct. 523, 5 L.Ed.2d 464, so that the litigation would lose its constitutional protection in line with the Court's decision in California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 92 S.Ct. 609, 30 L.Ed.2d 642, which was decided after the District Court had entered its decree. Pp. 379 380.

5. The District Court's retention of jurisdiction to afford the parties 'necessary and appropriate relief' provides an adequate safeguard against the possibility that compulsory interconnections or wheeling might threaten Otter Tail's ability adequately to serve the public. Pp. 380—382.

331 F.Supp. 54, affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part.

Milton Handler, New York City, for appellant.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D.C., for appellee.

Page 368

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this civil antitrust suit brought by appellee against Otter Tail Power Co. (Otter Tail), an electric utility company, the District Court found that Otter Tail had attempted to monopolize and had monopolized the retail distribution of electric power in its service area in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Act. 26 Stat. 209, as amended 15 U.S.C. § 2. The District Court found that Otter Tail had attempted to prevent communities in which its retail distribution franchise had expired from replacing it with a municipal distribution system. The principal means employed were (1) refusals to sell power at wholesale to proposed municipal systems in the communities where it had been retailing power; (2) refusals to 'wheel' power to such systems, that is to say, to transfer by direct transmission or displacement electric power from one utility to another over the facilities of an intermediate utility; (3) the institution and support of litigation designed to prevent or delay establishment of those systems; and (4) the invocation of provisions in its transmission contracts with several other power suppliers for the purpose of denying the municipal systems access to other suppliers by means of Otter Tail's transmission systems.

Otter Tail sells electric power at retail in 465 towns in Minnesota, North Dakta, and South Dakota. The District Court's decree enjoins it from refusing to sell electric power at wholesale to existing or proposed municipal electric power systems in the areas serviced by Otter Tail, from refusing to wheel electric power over the lines from the electric power supplier to existing or proposed municipal systems in the area, from entering into or enforcing any contract which prohibits use of Otter Tail's lines

Page 369

to wheel electric power to municipal electric power systems, or from entering into or enforcing any contract which limits the customers to whom and areas in which Otter Tail or any other electric power company may sell electric power.

The decree also enjoins Otter Tail from instituting, supporting, or engaging in litigation, directly or indirectly, against municipalities and their officials who have voted to establish municipal electric power systems for the purpose of delaying, preventing, or interfering with the establishment of a municipal electric power system. D.C., 331 F.Supp. 54. Otter Tail took a direct appeal to this Court under § 2 of the Expediting Act, as amended, 62 Stat. 989, 15 U.S.C. § 29; and we noted probable jurisdiction, 406 U.S. 944, 92 S.Ct. 2039, 32 L.Ed.2d 330.

In towns where Otter Tail distributes at retail, to operates under municipally granted granchises which are limited from 10 to 20 years. Each town in Otter Tail's service area generally can accommodate only one distribution system, making each town a natural monopoly market for the distribution and sale of electric power at retail. The aggregate of towns in Otter Tail's service area is the geographic market in which Otter Tail competes for the right to serve the towns at retail.1 That competition is generally for the right to serve the entire

Page 370

retail market within the composite limits of a town, and that competition is generally between Otter Tail and a prospective or existing municipal system. These towns number 510 and of those Otter Tail serves 91%, or 465.

Otter Tail's policy is to acquire, when it can, existing municipal systems within its service areas. It has acquired six since 1947. Between 1945 and 1970, there were contests in 12 towns served by Otter Tail over proposals to replace it with municipal systems. In only three—Elbow Lake, Minnesota, Colman, South Dakota, and Aurora, South Dakota—were municipal systems actually established. Proposed municipal systems have great obstacles; they must purchase the electric power at wholesale. To do so they must have access to existing transmission lines. The only ones available2 belong to Otter Tail. While the Bureau of Reclamation has high-voltage bulk-power supply lines in the area, it does not operate a subtransmission network, but relies on wheeling contracts with Otter Tail and other utilities to deliver power for its bulk supply lines to its wholesale customers.3

The antitrust charge against Otter Tail does not involve the lawfulness of its retail outlets, but only its methods of preventing the towns it served from establishing their own municipal systems when Otter Tail's

Page 371

franchises expired. The critical events centered largely in four towns—Elbow Lake, Minnesota, Hankinson, North Dakota, Colman, South Dakota, and Aurora, South Dakota. When Otter Tail's franchise in each of these towns terminated, the citizens voted to establish a municipal distribution system. Otter Tail refused to sell the new systems energy at wholesale and refused to agree to wheel power from other suppliers of wholesale energy.

Colman and Aurora had access to other transmission. Against them, Otter Tail used the weapon of litigation.

As respects Elbow Lake and Hankinson, Otter Tail simply refused to deal, although according to the findings it had the ability to do so. Elbow Lake, cut off from all sources of wholesale power, constructed its own generating plant. Both Elbow Lake and Hankinson requested the Bureau of Reclamation and various cooperatives to furnish them with wholesale power; they were willing to supply it if Otter Tail would wheel it. But Otter Tail refused, relying on provisions in its contracts which barred the use of its lines for wheeling power to towns which it had served at retail. Elbow Lake after completing its plant asked the Federal Power Commission, under § 202(b) of the Federal Power Act, 49 Stat. 848, 16 U.S.C. § 824a(b), to require Otter Tail to interconnect with the town and sell it power at wholesale. The Federal Power Commission ordered first a temporary4 and then a permanent connection.5 Hankinson tried unsuccessfully to get relief from the North Dakota Commission and then filed a complaint with the federal com-

Page 372

mission seeking an order to compel Otter Tail to wheel. While the application was pending, the town council voted to withdraw it and subsequently renewed Otter Tail's franchise.

It was found that Otter Tail instituted or sponsored litigation involving four towns in its service area which had the effect of halting or delaying efforts to establish municipal systems. Municipal power systems are financed by the sale of electric revenue bonds. Before such bonds can be sold, the town's attorney must submit an...

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455 practice notes
  • Greensboro Lumber Co. v. Georgia Power Co., Civ. A. No. C84-2022A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • August 29, 1986
    ...sources without the consent of the Alabama Electric Cooperative. 25 The plaintiff's reliance on Otter Tail Power Company v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 93 S.Ct. 1022, 35 L.Ed.2d 359 (1973), where the Supreme Court rejected claims of antitrust immunity, is misplaced. In Otter Tail, the Supr......
  • Professional Real Estate Investors, Inc v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc, No. 91-1043
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 3, 1993
    ...a sham as "evidenced by repetitive lawsuits carrying the hallmark of insubstantial claims." Otter Tail Power Co. v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 380, 93 S.Ct. 1022, 1031, 35 L.Ed.2d 359 (1973) (emphasis added). We regard as sham "private action that is not genuinely aimed at procuring favor......
  • Huron Valley Hospital v. City of Pontiac, Civ. No. 78-72970.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
    • March 2, 1979
    ...and courts, is evidenced by repetitive lawsuits bearing the hallmark of insubstantial claims. Otter Tail Power Co. v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 380, 93 S.Ct. 1022, 35 L.Ed.2d 359 (1973); Trucking Unlimited, supra, 404 U.S. at 512-13, 92 S.Ct. 609. Such was the complaint in Hospital Build......
  • Public Systems v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Nos. 76-1609
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 30, 1979
    ...(1968). 48 Gulf States Utils. Co. v. FPC, 411 U.S. 747, 93 S.Ct. 1870, 36 L.Ed.2d 635 (1973). 49 Otter Tail Power Co. v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 93 S.Ct. 1022, 35 L.Ed.2d 359 50 Order 530-A, Supra note 15, at 9; J.A. 714. 1 In Order No. 530 the Commission did not elaborate upon the nat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
443 cases
  • Greensboro Lumber Co. v. Georgia Power Co., Civ. A. No. C84-2022A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • August 29, 1986
    ...sources without the consent of the Alabama Electric Cooperative. 25 The plaintiff's reliance on Otter Tail Power Company v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 93 S.Ct. 1022, 35 L.Ed.2d 359 (1973), where the Supreme Court rejected claims of antitrust immunity, is misplaced. In Otter Tail, the Supr......
  • Professional Real Estate Investors, Inc v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc, No. 91-1043
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 3, 1993
    ...a sham as "evidenced by repetitive lawsuits carrying the hallmark of insubstantial claims." Otter Tail Power Co. v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 380, 93 S.Ct. 1022, 1031, 35 L.Ed.2d 359 (1973) (emphasis added). We regard as sham "private action that is not genuinely aimed at procuring favor......
  • Huron Valley Hospital v. City of Pontiac, Civ. No. 78-72970.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
    • March 2, 1979
    ...and courts, is evidenced by repetitive lawsuits bearing the hallmark of insubstantial claims. Otter Tail Power Co. v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 380, 93 S.Ct. 1022, 35 L.Ed.2d 359 (1973); Trucking Unlimited, supra, 404 U.S. at 512-13, 92 S.Ct. 609. Such was the complaint in Hospital Build......
  • Public Systems v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Nos. 76-1609
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 30, 1979
    ...(1968). 48 Gulf States Utils. Co. v. FPC, 411 U.S. 747, 93 S.Ct. 1870, 36 L.Ed.2d 635 (1973). 49 Otter Tail Power Co. v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 93 S.Ct. 1022, 35 L.Ed.2d 359 50 Order 530-A, Supra note 15, at 9; J.A. 714. 1 In Order No. 530 the Commission did not elaborate upon the nat......
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  • ATOMISTIC ANTITRUST.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 63 Nbr. 6, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...adjudicative process legitimately" against a "pattern of baseless, repetitive claims"); see also Otter Tail Power Co. v. United States, 410 U.S. 366, 380 (1973) (citing Cal. Motor Transp., 404 U.S. at 513) (describing sham litigation as "evidenced by repetitive lawsuits carrying the hallmar......
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    • Antitrust Bulletin Nbr. 62-4, December 2017
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    ...342 U.S. 143 (1951). See also Times-Picayune Publ’g Co. v. United States, 345 U.S.594 (1953); Otter Tail Power Co. v. United States, 410 U.S. 366 (1973).34. 334 U.S. 100, 106–08 (1948).35. Although the attempt provision was applied to a two-market situation in Lorain Journal, the actual mon......
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    • United States
    • Antitrust Bulletin Nbr. 38-2, June 1993
    • June 1, 1993
    ...to the compeutor.»94 15 U.S.C. §2.9S Kodak, 112 S. Ct. at 2091, n.32; Aspen Skiing Co., 472 U.S. at602--05; Otter Tail Power Co. v, U.S., 410 U.S. 366 (1973); Delaware &Hudson Railway Company v, Consolidated Rail Corp., 902 F.2d 174 (2dCir. 1990), cert. denied, 111 S. Ct. 2041 (1991).96 Ott......
  • The Antitrust Duty to Deal in the Age of Big Tech.
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    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 5, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...body of regulatory law does not eliminate antitrust's jurisdiction over the matter (as sometimes happens in regulated settings). (333.) 410 U.S. 366, 378-82 (1973) (affirming liability on a refusal-to-deal (334.) Id. at 368. (335.) See id. at 375-76. (336.) See Verizon Commc'ns Inc. v. Law ......
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