Town of Hallie v. City of Eau Claire

Decision Date27 March 1985
Docket NumberNo. 82-1832,82-1832
PartiesTOWN OF HALLIE, et al., Petitioners v. CITY OF EAU CLAIRE
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioners, unincorporated townships located in Wisconsin adjacent to respondent city, filed suit against respondent in Federal District Court, alleging that petitioners were potential competitors of respondent in the collection and transportation of sewage, and that respondent had violated the Sherman Act by acquiring a monopoly over the provision of sewage treatment services in the area and by tying the provision of such services to the provision of sewage collection and transportation services. Respondent refused to supply sewage treatment services to petitioners, but supplied the services to individual landowners in petitioners' areas if a majority of the individuals in the area voted by referendum election to have their homes annexed by respondent and to use its sewage collection and transportation services. The District Court dismissed the complaint, finding, inter alia, that Wisconsin statutes regulating the municipal provision of sewage services expressed a clear state policy to replace competition with regulation. The court concluded that respondent's allegedly anticompetitive conduct fell within the "state action" exemption to the federal antitrust laws established by Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341, 63 S.Ct. 307, 87 L.Ed. 315. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Respondent's anticompetitive activities are protected by the state action exemption to the federal antitrust laws. Pp. 38-47.

(a) Before a municipality may claim the protection of the state action exemption, it must demonstrate that it is engaging in the challenged activity pursuant to a "clearly articulated" state policy. Lafayette v. Louisiana Power & Light Co., 435 U.S. 389, 98 S.Ct. 1123, 55 L.Ed.2d 364. Pp. 38-40.

(b) Wisconsin statutes grant authority to cities to construct and maintain sewage systems, to describe the district to be served, and to refuse to serve unannexed areas. The statutes are not merely neutral on state policy but, instead, clearly contemplate that a city may engage in anti-competitive conduct. To pass the "clear articulation" test, the legislature need not expressly state in a statute or the legislative history that it intends for the delegated action to have anticompetitive effects. The Wisconsin statutes evidence a clearly articulated state policy to displace competition with regulation in the area of municipal provision of sewage services. Pp. 40-44.

(c) The "clear articulation" requirement of the state action test does not require that respondent show that the State "compelled" it to act. Although compulsion affirmatively expressed may be the best evidence of state policy, it is by no means a prerequisite to a finding that a municipality acted pursuant to clearly articulated state policy. Cantor v. Detroit Edison Co., 428 U.S. 579, 96 S.Ct. 3110, 49 L.Ed.2d 1141, and Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773, 95 S.Ct. 2004, 44 L.Ed.2d 572, distinguished. Pp. 45-46.

(d) Active state supervision of anticompetitive conduct is not a prerequisite to exemption from the antitrust laws where the actor is a municipality rather than a private party. The requirement of active state supervision serves essentially the evidentiary function of ensuring that the actor is engaging in the challenged conduct pursuant to state policy. Where the actor is a municipality rather than a private party, there is little or no danger that it is involved in a private price-fixing arrangement. The danger that a municipality will seek to further purely parochial public interests at the expense of more overriding state goals is minimal, because of the requirement that the municipality act pursuant to a clearly articulated state policy. P. 46-47.

700 F.2d 376 (CA7 1983), affirmed.

Claude J. Covelli, Madison, Wis., for petitioners.

Frederick W. Fischer, Eau Claire, Wis., for respondent.

Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a municipality's anticompetitive activities are protected by the state action exemption to the federal antitrust laws established by Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341, 63 S.Ct. 307, 87 L.Ed. 315 (1943), when the activities are authorized, but not compelled, by the State, and the State does not actively supervise the anticompetitive conduct.

I

PetitionersTown of Hallie, Town of Seymour, Town of Union, and Town of Washington (the Towns)—are four Wisconsin unincorporated townships located adjacent to respondent, the City of Eau Claire (the City). Town of Hallie is located in Chippewa County, and the other three towns are located in Eau Claire County.1 The Towns filed suit against the City in United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin seeking injunctive relief and alleging that the City violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., by acquiring a monopoly over the provision of sewage treatment services in Eau Claire and Chippewa Counties, and by tying the provision of such services to the provision of sewage collection and transportation services.2 Under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq., the City had obtained federal funds to help build a sewage treatment facility within the Eau Claire Service Area, that included the Towns; the facility is the only one in the market available to the Towns. The City has refused to supply sewage treatment services to the Towns. It does supply the services to individual landowners in areas of the Towns if a majority of the individuals in the area vote by referendum election to have their homes annexed by the City, see Wis.Stat. §§ 66.024(4), 144.07(1) (1982), and to use the City's sewage collection and transportation services.

Alleging that they are potential competitors of the City in the collection and transportation of sewage, the Towns contended in the District Court that the City used its monopoly over sewage treatment to gain an unlawful monopoly over the provision of sewage collection and transportation services, in violation of the Sherman Act. They also contended that the City's actions constituted an illegal tying arrangement and an unlawful refusal to deal with the Towns.

The District Court ruled for the City. It found that Wisconsin's statutes regulating the municipal provision of sewage service expressed a clear state policy to replace competition with regulation. The court also found that the State adequately supervised the municipality's conduct through the State's Department of Natural Resources, that was authorized to review municipal decisions concerning provision of sewage services and corresponding annexations of land. The court concluded that the City's allegedly anticompetitive conduct fell within the state action exemption to the federal antitrust laws, as set forth in Community Communications Co. v. Boulder, 455 U.S. 40, 102 S.Ct. 835, 70 L.Ed.2d 810 (1982), and Parker v. Brown, supra. Accordingly, it dismissed the complaint.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed. 700 F.2d 376 (1983). It ruled that the Wisconsin statutes authorized the City to provide sewage services and to refuse to provide such services to unincorporated areas. The court therefore assumed that the State had contemplated that anticompetitive effects might result, and concluded that the City's conduct was thus taken pursuant to state authorization within the meaning of Parker v. Brown, supra. The court also concluded that in a case such as this involving "a local government performing a traditional municipal function," 700 F.2d, at 384, active state supervision was unnecessary for Parker immunity to apply. Requiring such supervision as a prerequisite to immunity would also be unwise in this situation, the court believed, because it would erode traditional concepts of local autonomy and home rule that were clearly expressed in the State's statutes.

We granted certiorari, 467 U.S. 1240, 104 S.Ct. 3508, 82 L.Ed.2d 818 (1984), and now affirm.

II

The starting point in any analysis involving the state action doctrine is the reasoning of Parker v. Brown. In Parker, relying on principles of federalism and state sovereignty, the Court refused to construe the Sherman Act as applying to the anticompetitive conduct of a State acting through its legislature. 317 U.S., at 350-351, 63 S.Ct., at 313-314. Rather, it ruled that the Sherman Act was intended to prohibit private restraints on trade, and it refused to infer an intent to "nullify a state's control over its officers and agents" in activities directed by the legislature. Id., at 351, 63 S.Ct., at 313.

Municipalities, on the other hand, are not beyond the reach of the antitrust laws by virtue of their status because they are not themselves sovereign. Lafayette v. Louisiana Power & Light Co., 435 U.S. 389, 412, 98 S.Ct. 1123, 1136, 55 L.Ed.2d 364 (1978) (opinion of BRENNAN, J.). Rather, to obtain exemption, municipalities must demonstrate that their anticompetitive activities were authorized by the State "pursuant to state policy to displace competition with regulation or monopoly public service." Id., at 413, 98 S.Ct., at 1137.

The determination that a municipality's activities constitute state action is not a purely formalistic inquiry; the State may not validate a municipality's anticompetitive conduct simply by declaring it to be lawful. Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S., at 351, 63 S.Ct., at 313. On the other hand, in proving that a state policy to displace competition exists, the municipality need not "be able to point to a specific, detailed legislative authorization" in order to assert a successful Parker defense to an antitrust suit. 435 U.S., at 415, 98 S.Ct., at 1138. Rather, Lafayette suggested, without deciding the issue, that it would be sufficient to obtain Parker immunity for a municipality to show that it acted pursuant to a ...

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