Young Lawyers Division Antitrust Committee
Section 1 Update: Single Entity Defense
February 23, 2010
Svetlana S. Gans
Copperweld Corp. v. Independence Tube Corp
., 467 U.S. 752 (1984).
A parent and its wholly owned subsidiary have complete unity of interest and are
incapable of conspiring in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.
“Their objectives are common, not disparate; their general corporate actions are
guided or determined not by two separate corporate consciousnesses, but one. They
are not unlike a multiple team of horses drawing a vehicle under the control of a single
driver. . . . If a parent and a wholly owned subsidiary do “agree” to a course of action,
there is no sudden joining of economic resources that had previously served different
interests, and there is no justification for
1 scrutiny.” (
“[S]ubstance, not form, should determine whether a separately incorporated entity is
capable of conspiring under
at 773 fn21)
The Court left open the question as to whether a parent company may be liable for
conspiring with an affiliated corporation it does not completely own. (
has been extended to bar antitrust claims against parent
entities and less
Leasco Enters. v. Glen Elec. Co
., 737 F. Supp. 605 (D. Or. 1990) (91.9% is a de
minimus departure from total ownership).
Coast Cities Trust Sales, Inc. v. Navistar Int’l Transp. Co
., 912 F. Supp. 747 (D.N.J.
1995) (70% owned dealerships incapable of conspiring with parent entity).
Novatel Commc’ns Inc. v. Cellular Tel. Supply, Inc.
, No. 85
2674A, 1986 WL 15507
(N.D. Ga. Dec. 23, 1986) (51% owned subsidiary incapable of conspiring with parent
Sonitrol of Fresno, Inc. v. Am. Tel. & Tel.,
Civ. A. No. 83
2324, 1986 WL 953
(D.D.C. Apr. 30, 1986) (AT&T had capacity to conspire with 32% and 23% owned
has also been extended to companies and their agents and
dealers, in the franchisor
franchisee context and other affiliations.
Pink Supply Corp. v. Hiebert, Inc
., 788 F.2d 1313 (8
Cir. 1986) (furniture supplier and
Oksanen v. Page Mem. Hosp
., 945 F.2d 696 (4
Cir. 1991) (en banc) (hospital and its
William v. Nevada
, 794 F. Supp. 1026 (D. Nev. 1992),
, 999 F.3d 445 (9
1993) (franchisor and franchisees).
Day v. Taylor
, 400 F.3d 1272 (11
Cir. 2005) (rental truck company and independent
In many situations, even if
does not apply, when
independent economic actors gather together to produce a new product,
their conduct will be subject to rule of reason.
DOJ/FTC Competitor Collaboration Guidelines (Apr. 2002) (joint ventures may be pro
Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Columbia Broad. Sys., Inc
., 441 U.S. 1 (1979).
Columbia Broadcasting System argued that blanket license fees imposed by ASCAP and BMI
constituted per se price fixing;
Court found per se analysis was inapplicable;
Blanket license was not restraint of trade but rather accompanied the integration of sales,
monitoring, and enforcement against unauthorized copyright use. (
. at 20);
“ASCAP, in short, made a market in which individual composers are inherently unable to
compete fully effectively.” (
. at 22
“Joint ventures and other cooperative arrangements are also not usually unlawful at least not as
price fixing schemes, where the arrangement on price is necessary to market the product at all.”
. at 23)
NCAA v. Bd. of Regents
, 468 U.S. 85, 117 (1984) ("a certain degree of cooperation is necessary if
the type of competition that petitioner and its member institutions seek to market is to be preserved."
owever, NCAA’s restrictions on member institutions’ ability to enter into separate contracts to license
games were unreasonable).
Texaco Inc. v. Dagher
, 547 U.S. 1 (2006).
Texaco Inc. and Shell Oil Co. operated a joint venture Equilon Enterprises to refine and sell
gasoline in the western United States under their individual brand names.
Gas operator sued under
1 for per se price fixing because gas pricing was uniform.
Court reversed Ninth Circuit and found the joint venture constituted a single entity under
Texaco and Shell did not compete against each other in the relevant market, but rather
operated through the joint venture.
“[T]he pricing policy challenged here amounts to little more than price setting by a single
albeit within the context of a joint venture
and not a pricing agreement between
competing entities with respect to their competing products.” (
. at 6)
“As a single entity, a joint venture, like any firm, must have the discretion to determine the
prices of the products that it sells, including the discretion to sell a product under two different
brands at a single unified price.” (
. at 7)
Joint Ventures as Single Entities
to Sports Leagues
Generally, restraints imposed by sports leagues are subject to rule of reason analysis, and
leagues have not been deemed to be single entities under
, 34 F.3d 1091 (1
N. Am. Soccer League v. NFL
, 670 F.2d 1249 (2d Cir.
Los Angeles Mem’l Coliseum Comm’n v. NFL
, 726 F.2d 1381 (9
, 790 F. Supp. 871 (D. Minn. 1992);
Seabury Mgmt. Inc. v. PGA
, 878 F.
Supp. 771 (D. Md. 1994),
aff’d in relevant part,
52 F.3d 322 (4
Cir. 1994) (applying
to Professional Golf Association).
The Seventh Circuit left open the possibility that the NBA may be a single actor in
Prof’l Sports Ltd. P’Ship v. Nat’l Basketball Ass’n
, 95 F.3d 593 (7
, the court noted that “the NBA has no existence independent of
sports[;] [i]t makes professional basketball; only it can make ‘NBA Basketball’ games; and
unlike the NCAA the NBA also ‘makes’ teams.” In the context of selling broadcast rights
and advertising, “‘NBA Basketball’ is one product from a single source,” and “when acting in
the broadcast market the NBA is closer to a single firm than to a group of independent firms
. . . .”
to Sports Leagues:
American Needle, Inc. v. NFL
, 538 F.3d 736 (7
The NFL is an unincorporated association of 32 separately owned and operated
football teams. NFL Properties was formed in 1963 to develop, license and market the
teams’ intellectual property and conduct advertising and promotional campaigns. The
NFL and its teams granted NFLP the exclusive right to license their trademarks and
logos, though each team retained ownership of its intellectual property.
American Needle sued the NFL and NFL Properties for decision to award exclusive
license to Reebok, a competing headwear licensee.
District court granted the defendants summary judgment.
On appeal, American Needle argued that district court employed the wrong analysis.
District court analyzed whether the NFLP acted as a single entity in licensing. The
correct inquiry, according to American Needle, was whether the agreement to license
“deprived the market of sources of economic power that control the intellectual
. at 742) American Needle argued that if the individual teams can license
independently of the NFL, the NFL, the NFLP and teams cannot be considered a
to Sports Leagues:
The Court of Appeals disagreed with American Needle.
W]e are not convinced that the NFL’s single entity status in the present context turns
entirely on whether the league’s member teams can compete with one another when
licensing and marketing their intellectual property.” (
. at 743)
NFL can only function when the activities are carried out jointly.
“It thus follows that only one source of economic power controls the promotion of NFL
football; it makes little sense to assert that each individual team has the authority, if not
the responsibility, to promote the jointly produced NFL football.” (
Nothing in Section 1 prohibits the NFL from cooperating so that the league can
compete against other entertainment providers.
“[T]he NFL teams are best described as a single source of economic power when
promoting NFL football through licensing the teams’ intellectual property.” (
. at 744)
to Sports Leagues:
Supreme Court argument.
Oral argument before Supreme Court (1/13/10).
Justices seemed concerned about a per se legality rule immunizing NFL against all
challenges under Sherman Act Section 1.
Justices questioned whether licensing of trademarks/sale of apparel and promotion of
football were one in the same.
Questions suggested some Justices may be concerned that single entity defense
might prematurely cut off inquiry into conduct that should be subject to antitrust
scrutiny under rule of reason.
Corporate form may not always insulate companies from antitrust scrutiny.
Most cases have been decided on summary judgment motions
Courts will continue to look beyond the corporate form to determine whether
the single entity defense applies. Courts will continue to ask: do the entities
have disparate economic interests? Do the companies operate as one
Continue to document the pro
competitive benefits of the venture. Ask if the
restraint is necessary for the venture to operate. Is it an ancillary restraint to
an otherwise legitimate venture?
will have profound effects if the Supreme Court sides with
the NFL. Decision may not only affect NFL activities, but also other sports
leagues and joint ventures generally.
Svetlana S. Gans focuses her practice on antitrust and other complex commercial litigation,
criminal antitrust matters, merger review, and client counseling.
Ms. Gans’ civil antitrust experience includes representing clients in federal and state courts
(both in individual and class
actions) and before the Antitrust Division and Federal Trade
Commission relating to various pricing, distribution, and advertising practices, spanning
numerous industries. She has experience representing clients before the FTC on consumer
protection issues such as the FCRA. She also represents companies and executives
involved in DOJ grand jury proceedings, serves as counsel to trade associations, and assists
clients with antitrust compliance programs, internal investigations and compliance reporting
under DOJ and FTC consent decrees. Ms. Gans also has experience in complex litigation
involving Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and unfair and
deceptive trade practices claims.
Ms. Gans is active in the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Section Leadership. She has
served as vice chair of the Books and Treatises Committee (2004
2008) and currently serves
as vice chair of the Business Torts and Civil RICO Committee (2009
present) and the Young
Lawyer Division Antitrust Committee’s liaison to the Antitrust Section (2009
2011). Ms. Gans
serves on the firm’s associate life, professional development and pro bono committees. She
previously served as an Honors Program Paralegal for the Antitrust Division’s Merger Task
Force, as a judicial intern for Judge John L. Kane (D. Colo.), and speaks fluent Russian.
University of Denver College of Law, J.D., with high honors
Boston University, B.A., B.S., cum laude
Svetlana S. Gans,