Private Antitrust at the U.S. International Trade Commission
This paper, drafted as an adjudicator’s opinion in a recent case of nearly first impression, explores an approach to aligning the strengths and opportunities available through the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) by considering how more ordinary antitrust issues can be adjudicated through the Section 337 portion of the ITC’s docket. This might be done using existing law. The basic theme is that there are several significant reasons why even a skeptic of the ITC’s Anti-dumping, Countervailing Duty, and Safeguards docket (collectively, the “Title VII” docket) – as well as an antitrust skeptic – should be significantly less worried when cases normally expected to be brought in the Title VII portion of the ITC’s docket as petitions are instead brought in the Section 337 portion of the ITC docket as complaints alleging ordinary violations of the antitrust laws. Private antitrust litigation fits well within the ITC’s Section 337 docket for several reasons. It squarely fits with the plain meaning of the ITC’s statute. It also squarely fits the well-established antitrust case law. In addition, it offers some practical benefits. Unlike the relatively easy-to-satisfy legal requirement for assessing injury in the Title VII portion of the docket, a 337 investigation involving established antitrust law would turn on the substantive legal standards within that body of established antitrust law that are seen by a broad consensus to be focused on a middle of the road attempt to represent true public interest in avoiding actual economic harm to a market as a whole. In addition, a 337 investigation, which involves initial inter-partes adversarial litigation before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), implicates less reliance on administrative deference than an action in the Title VII portion of the docket, and more reliance than in the Title VII portion of the docket on a detailed factual record involving the full panoply of procedural devices ordinarily available in federal court for truth-testing of evidence including cross examination of testimony, all in a timeframe likely to be significantly shorter (around 18 months) than the many years typically required for antitrust litigation in federal court. Nevertheless, at least one recent high-profile dispute involving steel imported from China shows there is at least one significant barrier that may stand as a practical obstacle to a private litigant bringing an antitrust claim under the Section 337 portion of the ITC’s docket: the doctrine that federal courts developed called “antitrust injury,” During the initial phases of such a case recently brought against Chinese importers of steel by the domestic US steel industry, with support from both companies and unions, the ALJ dismissed the antitrust complaint for lack of antitrust injury in an initial determination that was then reviewed by the Commission. The ITC affirmed. This paper explores some reasons why the antitrust injury doctrine from federal court may not be a good fit for investigations brought under Section 337 at the ITC.