Focus Areas:    Antitrust | Financial Regulation

BRIEF OF RICHARD A. EPSTEIN & GEOFFREY A. MANNE, IN SUPPORT OF Defendant in Pulse Network, LLC v. Visa Incorporated

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Summary

To establish antitrust standing, Pulse must show not only “injury causally linked to an illegal presence in the market” but also antitrust injury “attributable to an anti-competitive aspect of the practice under scrutiny.” Atl. Richfield Co. v. USA Petroleum Co., 495 U.S. 328, 334 (1990) (quoting Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U.S. 477, 488-89 (1977)). Put differently, Pulse must prove the existence of an injury “of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent and that flows from that which makes defendants’ acts unlawful.” Id. (quoting Brunswick Corp., 429 U.S. at 489). As the district court rightly decided, Pulse has failed to meet its burden.

Antitrust law does not punish firms for succeeding even if they become dominant. Congress enacted the Sherman Act for “the protection of competition, not competitors.” Id. at 338 (quoting Brown Shoe Co. v. United States, 370 U.S. 294, 320 (1962)). Yet Pulse’s injury flows from increased competition due to Visa’s innovation in the debit- network industry. Pulse freely admits that it lacks the “scale and market relevance” needed to compete with Visa’s challenged business strategies. (Appellant’s Br. 34) That Pulse’s PIN product has (so far, anyway) failed to gain traction in the marketplace, however, is not proof of antitrust injury. On the contrary, mere injury to a competitor, rather than to competition, is not an injury “of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent.” Phototron Corp. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 842 F.2d 95, 99 (5th Cir. 1988) (quoting Brunswick Corp., 429 U.S. at 489).

What’s more, Pulse has sued Visa for conduct that Pulse admits lowered merchants’ per-transaction fees, contending that those lower fees caused Pulse to obtain fewer transactions and generate less revenue. Pulse complains that it cannot “undercut” Visa’s new pricing structure. (Appellant’s Br. 40) But non-predatory price competition is no basis for antitrust injury. “When a firm … lowers prices but maintains them above predatory levels, the business lost by rivals cannot be viewed as an ‘anticompetitive’ consequence of the claimed violation.” Atl. Richfield, 495 U.S. at 337. So even if it harms Pulse, Visa’s charging low, but not below-cost, per-transaction fees to win market share is not harm to competition. Instead, both Visa’s conduct and its effects are “fully consistent with competition on the merits.” Taylor Publ’g Co. v. Jostens, Inc., 216 F.3d 465, 477 (5th Cir. 2000).

True, when assessing standing, this Court will assume that an antitrust violation exists. Doctor’s Hosp. of Jefferson, Inc. v. Se. Med. All., Inc., 123 F.3d 301, 306 (5th Cir. 1997). But that is not enough. “[P]roof of a[n antitrust] violation and of antitrust injury are distinct matters that must be shown independently.” Atl. Richfield, 495 U.S. at 344 (quoting Phillip E. Areeda & Herbert Hovenkamp, Antitrust Law ¶ 334.2c, at 330 (1989 Supp.)). Unable to show how Visa’s conduct harmed competition in any way, Pulse seeks to wag the dog of antitrust injury with the tail of an assumed violation. But a competitor has standing only if it proves that its “loss stems from a competition- reducing aspect or effect of the defendant’s behavior.” Atl. Richfield, 495 U.S. at 344. Pulse has proven nothing of the sort.

Antitrust is about unleashing the forces of competition, not throttling them. Accepting Pulse’s watered-down approach to antitrust injury, however, would have just the opposite effect. It would invite struggling firms to use antitrust law as a sword rather than a shield. It would deter innovation in highly competitive markets. And it would permit competitors to seek treble damages for pro-competitive harms that antitrust law does not reach. Rather than ensure vigorous competition, reversing the judgment below would harm competition and consumers alike.

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