Showing 9 of 76 Publications by Daniel J. Gilman

The 2023 Merger Guidelines: A Panel Discussion of the Product, the Process, and the Prognosis

Presentations & Interviews To much fanfare and even more controversy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) Antitrust Division jointly released new draft merger guidelines . . .

To much fanfare and even more controversy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) Antitrust Division jointly released new draft merger guidelines in July 2023. In December 2023, after concluding their review of comments on the draft, the agencies published the final guidelines. The new guidelines appear—in the eyes of many—to be an improvement over the draft document, although there remains considerable disagreement regarding how much improvement, and many of the document’s basic policy statements remain controversial.

On Feb. 26, 2024, the International Center for Law & Economics (ICLE) convened a distinguished panel of academics, practitioners, and former FTC commissioners to bring informed legal and economic perspectives to bear on the question of what the agencies delivered and how courts and antitrust practitioners might apply this guidance.

Panelists included Bruce Kobayashi, the Paige V. and Henry N. Butler Chair in Law and Economics at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School; Kristen Limarzi, a partner in the antitrust and competition practice group at Gibson Dunn; former FTC Commissioner and Acting Chair Maureen Ohlhausen, now a partner with Wilson Sonsini; Diana Moss, vice president and director of competition policy at the Progressive Policy Institute; and fellow former FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips, now co-chair of the antitrust practice at Cravath. ICLE Senior Scholar Dan Gilman served as moderator.

Video of the full event is embedded below.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

March-Right-on-In Rights?

TOTM The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) published a request for information (RFI) in December 2023 on its “Draft Interagency Guidance Framework for Considering . . .

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) published a request for information (RFI) in December 2023 on its “Draft Interagency Guidance Framework for Considering the Exercise of March-In Rights.” It’s quite something, if not in a good way.

Read the full piece here.

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Intellectual Property & Licensing

Dan Gilman on Antitrust Agencies’ Scrutiny of Labor

Presentations & Interviews ICLE Senior Scholar Daniel J. Gilman took part in a virtual panel convened by the Federalist Society on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. . . .

ICLE Senior Scholar Daniel J. Gilman took part in a virtual panel convened by the Federalist Society on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Justice Department’s (DOJ) recent moves to put labor issues at the center of antitrust enforcement and policy making. Video of the full event is embedded below.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Recent Challenges to the FTC’s Constitutionality

TL;DR tl;dr Background: Created by Congress in 1914, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has employed in-house administrative adjudications for more than a century. The agency’s constitutionality . . .

tl;dr

Background: Created by Congress in 1914, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has employed in-house administrative adjudications for more than a century. The agency’s constitutionality was challenged early in its existence, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1935 Humphrey’s Executor decision. Federal courts have, in the years since, been hesitant to invalidate an agency that has been functioning without issue for decades. 

But… Recent rulings in Seila (2020) and Axon (2023) have raised questions about the extent to which the Supreme Court would still recognize the agency’s legitimacy. In Seila, the Court held that Humphrey’s Executor applies only when an agency “do[es] not wield substantial executive powers.” In Axon, it held that federal courts can entertain constitutional challenges even while an administrative adjudication is pending. 

Such rulings have paved the way for challenges to the FTC’s constitutionality. Most notably, Meta filed a challenge in November 2023 after the FTC sought to use administrative adjudication to modify a 2020 consent decree. Amgen brought a similar challenge in response to merger proceedings, as did Walmart during anti-fraud proceedings. Six primary arguments have been raised against the FTC’s constitutionality.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

FTC COMMISSIONERS ARE INSULATED FROM PRESIDENTIAL REMOVAL

By statute, the president of the United States may remove commissioners of the FTC only “for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” Humphrey’s Executor upheld this process, because the FTC was not deemed to exercise executive power. 

But the FTC has changed dramatically over the past century. In the 1970s, Congress broadened its authority to pursue injunctive relief in federal court and to seek civil penalties, which would typically be considered executive functions. The agency now functions primarily as an enforcer of laws, and much more rarely exercises its quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers.

In short, there is a question whether the FTC, in its current form and operations, violates the constitutional separation of powers.

THE FTC IS BOTH PROSECUTOR AND JUDGE

The FTC’s administrative-adjudication process has also raised constitutional questions. FTC staff may, following a preliminary screening, be authorized to investigate a potential violation of the law. That investigation, in turn, can lead commissioners to vote on whether to issue a complaint.

If it is not settled, the complaint is heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ) who, under recently revised agency process, issues a “recommended decision” to the commission. Previously, the ALJ would issue an “initial decision” that would stand unless the FTC or defendant sought review. 

The FTC then decides whether to accept, revise, or wholly replace the recommended decision with one of its own.  Serving as both a prosecutor and judge may violate the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

IMPROPER DELEGATION OF LEGISLATIVE POWER

Congress enabled the FTC to decide whether to pursue adjudication in federal courts or within its own administrative process. But under the Constitution’s nondelegation doctrine, when Congress delegates any of its legislative powers, it must provide an “intelligible principle” for an agency to use that power. Some of the recent challenges argue there is no such principle governing which avenue the FTC pursues, rendering the delegation of powers unconstitutional. 

PRIVATE RIGHTS MUST BE ADJUDICATED IN ARTICLE III COURTS 

Among the broad powers conferred to the federal courts under Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution is exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate private rights. But the FTC has been granted authority to hold administrative adjudications that can result in the deprivation of private rights (e.g., deprivation of property). Such proceedings may be unconstitutional. 

CIVIL PENALTIES WITHOUT A JURY TRIAL

The Seventh Amendment secures the right to jury trial whenever civil penalties exceed $20. This typically applies to deprivation of property rights, as well. But the FTC’s administrative adjudication does not provide for a jury trial. 

DISPARATE MERGER-REVIEW PROCESSES

Under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, mergers exceeding certain thresholds must be notified to both the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and the FTC. The agencies then follow a so-called “clearance” process to determine which will review the transaction. But the process is largely arbitrary, with some matters allocated based on one agency having more relevant experience, and some on a taking-turns basis.

Unlike the FTC, the DOJ can only challenge transactions before Article III courts, rather than in-house administrative proceedings. These alternative procedures have meaningful procedural and substantive differences. If that leads to disparate treatment, it may violate both the Fifth Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses.

For more on this issue, see Daniel Gilman’s Law360 piece “Why Challenges To FTC Authority Are Needed.”

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

The 2023 Merger Guidelines: What Are They Good For?

TL;DR tl;dr Background: In July 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) Antitrust Division jointly released new draft merger guidelines, to . . .

tl;dr

Background: In July 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) Antitrust Division jointly released new draft merger guidelines, to much fanfare and even more controversy. Five months later, the agencies published the final 2023 Merger Guidelines. Many of the same controversies remain.

But… It is appropriate to raise the questions of what exactly the guidelines are and what they are intended to accomplish. According to the DOJ, the merger guidelines “are a non-binding statement that provides transparency on aspects of the deliberations the Agencies undertake in individual cases under the antitrust laws.” According to the FTC, the guidelines “describe factors and frameworks the agencies utilize when reviewing mergers and acquisitions.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

AGENCY GUIDANCE DOCUMENTS OFFER A WINDOW ON AGENCY POLICY AND PROCESS

The merger guidelines are an example of agency guidance, which is itself a type of “soft law.” Soft law is not really law at all. It doesn’t prohibit anything or require anything—not with the force of law. “Guidance” or “guidelines” are not federal regulations. And courts are not required to interpret, apply, or even consult them. 

But guidance documents can nonetheless be extremely useful. Laws and regulations are not algorithms. They always require at least some degree of interpretation—sometimes a great deal. Guidance documents can provide a window into how agencies interpret the laws they are charged to enforce. 

This is especially true in antitrust law, whose core provisions are written broadly and do not require (or perhaps even permit) implementing regulations. Those laws have been given some detail in federal case law, but the application of that case law to new facts and circumstances also requires interpretation. The case law also continues to develop in response to actions brought by, among others, the FTC and the DOJ. 

Moreover, useful explanations of the law can vary tremendously depending on the intended audience. Hence, guidance documents may be styled “guidance for consumers” or “guidance for industry.” Other potential audiences include the judiciary and, not least, agency staff. 

MERGER GUIDELINES AS AN EXAMPLE OF ‘PERSUASIVE AUTHORITY’

Prior iterations of the merger guidelines have been more than just a transparency document. They’ve had at least some influence on the courts, which often cited, e.g., the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines as “persuasive authority.” In brief, “persuasive authority” might be anything a court thinks informative that’s not binding on the court.

Judicial opinions can cite other judicial opinions in support of their reasoning. Depending on the relationship between the courts, those other opinions are either “binding” or “persuasive” authority. Lower courts, such as the federal district courts, are bound to follow the holdings of higher ones, such as their own federal circuit courts of appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Opinions published by other district courts or courts in other circuits might be cited as persuasive authority–opinions that the courts consider informative, even though they are not bound to follow them. Courts can also cite to secondary sources, like law-review articles or noted treatises, as persuasive authority; that is, they can cite expert opinions they may consider more or less informative.

Agency guidelines are not binding, but they might be deemed persuasive (or not—it’s up to the court).    

2023 GUIDELINES ABANDON CONSENSUS, PROVIDE SCANT GUIDANCE

Prior editions of the guidelines could be persuasive—and often were—because courts thought they provided a useful synthesis of established law, economic learning, and agency experience. While they were not simply backward-looking reports summarizing prior decisions, they did reflect at least a rough consensus in the antitrust community.

As Luke Froeb, D. Daniel Sokol, and Liad Wagman put it, earlier merger guidelines  encouraged a dialogue “between potential plaintiffs and potential defendants and between attorneys and economists that moved antitrust law and policy forward to promote competition and innovation.” The new guidelines do not so much continue that dialogue as they seek to dictate the terms of a new one. And they replace a rough consensus with none.  

There are many points of contention. For one, despite several decades of literature de-emphasizing the role and reliability of structural presumptions (such as measures of market share) in antitrust analysis, the new merger guidelines rely heavily on simplistic, and even stronger, structural presumptions than did the prior guidelines. More fundamentally, central to established antitrust law is the fact that mergers can be either harmful or beneficial (or benign). Antitrust enforcers are only supposed to block the bad ones.

The 2023 Merger Guidelines give very short shrift to the simple notion that mergers may confer benefits, as well as costs. While the guidelines sketch a number of ways in which the agencies might deem mergers to be anticompetitive, they do not provide staff, industry, or the judiciary any guidance at all on the basic question of how to parse the good from the bad.

Which brings us back to the original question: what are guidelines for? Perhaps not for this.  

For more on this issue, see the “Comments of the International Center for Law and Economics on the FTC & DOJ Draft Merger Guidelines,” as well as several entries in Truth on the Market’s symposium on “The FTC’s New Normal.”

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

What Do We Do with Presumptions in Antitrust?

TOTM Winter was coming, as it does. We knew the agencies were going to issue new merger guidelines, and then they did. On Dec. 18, 2023, . . .

Winter was coming, as it does. We knew the agencies were going to issue new merger guidelines, and then they did. On Dec. 18, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) jointly issued merger guidelines, supplanting 2023’s draft guidelines, the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines, and the 2020 (partially withdrawnVertical Merger Guidelines.

That’s big news in antitrust, even though the guidelines do not have the force of law. There’s more on the merger guidelines below. But what else is new?

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Four Problems with the Supreme Court’s Refusal To Hear the Epic v Apple Dispute

TOTM The U.S. Supreme Court this week rejected both parties’ petitions for certiorari in appeals of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision Epic Games . . .

The U.S. Supreme Court this week rejected both parties’ petitions for certiorari in appeals of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision Epic Games v Apple. Many observers—including Epic CEO Tim Sweeney—have marked this as an unmitigated loss for Epic. 

That’s partly right. The district court had correctly rejected Epic’s federal antitrust claims against Apple (and against Epic, on Apple’s breach-of-contract counterclaim); the 9th Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision; and the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant cert leaves those Epic losses undisturbed. 

But Apple was denied a sweep at the district court, which ruled in favor of Epic’s claim under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). The 9th Circuit likewise sustained that state law decision. The Supreme Court has thus left both that state law decision and the district court’s nationwide injunction undisturbed.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

The Conundrum of Out-of-Market Effects in Merger Enforcement

TOTM Section 7 of the Clayton Act prohibits mergers that harm competition in “in any line” of commerce. And, indeed, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Philadelphia National . . .

Section 7 of the Clayton Act prohibits mergers that harm competition in “in any line” of commerce. And, indeed, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Philadelphia National Bank and Topco are often cited on behalf of the proposition that this means any single cognizable market, and that anticompetitive effects in one market cannot be offset by procompetitive effects in another.

That would appear to simplify antitrust analysis, and it certainly can. But as is so often the case in antitrust, apparent simplicity can be confounding in application. Is it really true that harm in any market, however narrow, is grounds to block a merger, whatever its broader effects? Is that the best reading of legal precedent? Is it required? And is it either practicable or desirable?

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

ICLE Amicus to US Supreme Court in McDonald’s v DesLandes

Amicus Brief INTEREST OF AMICUS CURIAE[1] The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, non-partisan global research and policy center aimed at building the . . .

INTEREST OF AMICUS CURIAE[1]

The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, non-partisan global research and policy center aimed at building the intellectual foundations for sensible, economically grounded policy. ICLE promotes the use of law and economics methodologies, as well as the results of economic research, to inform public policy debates, and it has longstanding expertise in antitrust law. It has filed amicus briefs in this Court and others around the country. See, e.g., Apple Inc. v. Epic Games, Inc., No. 23-344 (U.S.); United States v. Am. Airlines Grp. Inc., No. 23-1802 (1st Cir.); Giordano v. Saks Inc., No. 23-600 (2d Cir.).

ICLE respectfully submits that the decision below undermines the economic foundations of antitrust law by presuming that a potentially procompetitive restraint is per se unlawful, rather than analyzing the restraint under the default rule of reason. The Court should grant the petition for a writ of certiorari to clarify that the type of restraint at issue here is presumptively procompetitive and thus subject to the rule of reason.

ICLE scholars have written extensively on issues closely related to this case, and respectfully submit that their expertise will help clarify the economic problems with the decision below and highlight the reasons for the Court to grant certiorari.

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

This Court has clearly and repeatedly recognized that “[t]he rule of reason is the accepted standard for testing whether a practice restrains trade in violation of [Sherman Act] § 1” and that per se prohibitions are “con- fined to restraints … ‘that would always or almost al- ways tend to restrict competition and decrease output.’” Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877, 885–86 (2007) (quoting Bus. Elecs. Corp. v. Sharp Elecs. Corp., 485 U.S. 717, 723 (1988)). The decision below cannot be reconciled with those important principles.

The Seventh Circuit committed at least three errors that threaten the economic foundations of antitrust law and are worthy of this Court’s attention.

First, the Seventh Circuit inverted the strong presumption in favor of rule of reason analysis—a presumption that is critical in preventing antitrust law from deterring productive and beneficial conduct. Plaintiffs can overcome that presumption, but only when they show that the challenged restraint falls squarely within a class or category that “always or almost always” harms competition. Leegin, 551 U.S. at 885–86. For a court to make that prediction with confidence, it must have sufficient experience with the restraint. Here, the Seventh Circuit turned settled law on its head. From a dearth of experience, the court of appeals reasoned that a per se claim was plausible and sustainable. This approach threatens to chill Interbrand competition.

Second, the Seventh Circuit sustained a per se challenge to a restraint that has significant procompetitive virtues. The challenged contractual provision was designed, and chiefly functioned, as a vertical restraint. The economic literature shows that intrabrand vertical restraints tend to benefit competition. While there are circumstances under which certain vertical restraints can be anticompetitive, there is no literature demonstrating that they are typically anticompetitive. In the franchise context, intrabrand vertical restraints strengthen the franchise’s brand overall and thus foster competition. The existence of some horizontal aspects or applications of such a restraint, moreover, does not negate these procompetitive virtues. The rule of reason fosters consideration of such issues, whereas the Seventh Circuit’s decision curtails it.

Third, the Seventh Circuit held that positive effects on consumers cannot justify a restraint in the labor market. This holding is in deep tension with this Court’s admonition that antitrust analysis focus on “the commercial realities” of a business or industry rather than on “formalistic distinctions.” See Ohio v. Am. Express Co., 138 S. Ct. 2274, 2285 (2018) (“AmEx”) (quoting Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Tech. Servs., Inc., 504 U.S. 451, 466–67 (1992)). Second, the decision below is at odds with this Court’s teaching that “reasonableness” is a holistic endeavor, which incorporates consideration of consumer welfare. See NCAA v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141, 2151 (2021). As petitioners explain, a growing circuit split on this fundamental, analytical issue warrants this Court’s immediate attention.

[1] Pursuant to S. Ct. Rule 37.2(a), counsel for all parties have been notified about the filing of this brief. No counsel for a party authored this brief in whole or in part and no person or entity other than amicus, its members, or counsel made a monetary contribution to its preparation or submission.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection