With Recent Use of Disgorgement, FTC Continues to Sharpen its Enforcement Tools

amurinoFeatured Expert Column – Antitrust/Federal Trade Commission

Andrea Agathoklis Murino, Goodwin Proctor LLP

One need only check the headlines to see that enforcement of the antitrust laws is alive and well at the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) today. On both the merger and conduct front, the FTC’s Bureau of Competition has proven incredibly active—and successful. In a continuing example of its willingness to use all tools in its competition enforcement arsenal, the FTC resurrected use of its disgorgement authority in dramatic fashion, collecting nearly $27 million from Cardinal Health, Inc. (“Cardinal”) for conduct dating back to the early and mid- 2000s. The FTC’s willingness to challenge Cardinal’s conduct and the significance of the fine serve as reminders that the agency’s powers are broad and that under Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, the FTC will not hesitate to seek bold relief. Continue reading

Health Canada Gets it Right, While FDA Goes Further Astray, on “Added Sugars” Labeling

FDAIn a comment critical of his former employer’s proposal to mandate “added sugars” labeling, a former Director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Food Labeling  wrote, “‘Added Sugar’ is the ‘bête noir‘ of this decade for many in the nutrition community.” That community’s obsession with added sugars has hit an all-time high (or low) with FDA’s July 27 release of a proposed rule that “supplements” its March 3, 2014 proposed revision of the ubiquitous food Nutrition Facts panel. While U.S. regulators have been busy affirming the righteousness of their irrational approach, health officials in neighboring Canada have taken a far more reasoned stance. The contrast between the latter’s position and FDA’s proposal is quite instructive.

“Added Sugars” Charade.  Sound science and the history of government nutrition policy dictate that narrowly focusing on one food, ingredient, or nutrient is exactly the wrong way to reduce obesity. Past government pronouncements on the evils of fat and cholesterol pushed consumers away from items such as lean meat and eggs, and toward products like fat-free cookies packed with sweeteners. Now, government is admitting that we shouldn’t worry so much about fat. It’s also no longer clear that salt deserves its status as a longtime public-health bogeyman. Continue reading

Fifth Circuit Requires Labor Department to Pay Attorneys’ Fees in Bad Faith Independent Contractor Suit

DOLGuest Commentary

By Rachael Stein, a summer law clerk at Washington Legal Foundation who is entering her third year at the University of Georgia School of Law this fall.

In recent years, federal and state workplace regulators have put intense pressure on employers to move away from the use of independent contractors. This pressure was thrown into sharp relief in a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision, Gate Guard Services L. P. v. Perez, involving a highly-questionable investigation and lawsuit by the Department of Labor (DOL).

Gate Guard Services is a company that provides gate attendants to oil companies at remote drilling sites. Gate Guard classifies its attendants as independent contractors because the attendants find their own relief workers, are not evaluated based on performance, are not restricted from working for competitors, and are not supervised by Gate Guard. The federal investigation arose from a conversation DOL investigator David Rapstine had with a friend, who complained about the wages he received when formerly working at Gate Guard. Rapstine believed Gate Guard attendants were employees and not independent contractors, and therefore believed Gate Guard may have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by not paying overtime or keeping accurate records of attendants’ working hours. Continue reading

The Supreme Court’s NOT Top 10: Cases the Justices Wrongly Rejected Last Term

supreme courtThe usual spate of articles by Supreme Court scribes pronouncing the Roberts Court staunchly pro-business were noticeably sparser as the latest term ended. When journalists are reduced to using the Obamacare and same-sex marriage cases as their main exhibits to prove the Supreme Court’s supposed pro-business tilt, you know it wasn’t a banner year for business.

Of course there were a few notable losses (King v. Burwell itself, Oneok, and Texas Dept. of Housing come to mind). But the fact that free enterprise did not fare well this term had comparatively little to do with the decisions the Supreme Court issued. Rather, business civil liberties suffered more overall from the various state supreme court and federal courts of appeals cases that the high court left on the cutting-room floor.

The tally that follows comprises more than just the cases of a disappointed cert seeker. WLF did not participate in more than half of the examples discussed below. However, the cert petitions mentioned here are all cases where free enterprise, individual and business civil liberties, or rule of law interests were at stake. From the free-market vantage point, it once again appears that the Court did not make enough room on its docket for cases implicating significant liberty interests. By choosing a lighter load, the Court allows legal uncertainty to linger, lower-court disobedience to fester, adventuresome new legal theories to propagate, and injustices implicating millions, if not billions, of dollars to prevail.       Continue reading

Regrettable Outcome of Sysco/U.S. Foods Merger Challenge Reflects FTC Has Nothing to Fear from “SMARTER” Act

Botti2Featured Expert Contributor – Antitrust & Competition, U.S. Department of Justice

Mark J. Botti, Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP with Anthony W. Swisher, Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

Late last month, a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C. granted the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for a preliminary injunction against the proposed combination of Sysco and U.S. Foods because, according to the FTC, the merger “raised questions going to the merits so serious, substantial, difficult and doubtful as to make them fair ground for thorough investigation, study, deliberation and determination by the FTC in the first instance . . . .” In essence, despite having already conducted an intensive, 15-month investigation, the FTC sought an injunction that would allow it to further study the merger. The court’s injunction and the likely further delay predictably put an end to the merger.

The death of the Sysco/U.S. Foods merger underscores the sensibility of the proposed Standard Merger and Acquisition Reviews Through Equal Rules (SMARTER) Act, now working its way through Congress. While opposed by the FTC, SMARTER can simply and fairly require the FTC to show that a merger is likely to harm competition before it blocks the deal through the procedural device of a federal court preliminary injunction. That’s the same standard the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department (DOJ) must meet, and is the standard approach for federal courts considering a preliminary injunction request. Under current law, unlike DOJ the FTC faces the lower “further inquiry” standard quoted above. Passage of SMARTER could lead to equal treatment for all mergers under the law when tested in federal court regardless of which agency happened to review them. Continue reading

Attorneys as Qui Tam Relators?: False Claims Act Doesn’t Preempt Ethics Laws and Canons

ethicsGuest Commentary

by Tara Parker, a 2015 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at the Washington Legal Foundation and a student at Texas Tech School of Law.

A federal district judge in the Southern District of Mississippi recently reaffirmed something that should be intuitively obvious to most attorneys:  the federal False Claims Act (FCA) does not relieve a lawyer who brings a qui tam action under the law of his ethical obligations. The court in United States ex rel. Holmes v. Northrop Grumman Corporation disqualified the attorney from serving as a relator because he had violated his duties of loyalty, candor, and confidentiality, as well as the duty to obey court orders. The case stands as not only a monument to unethical attorney behavior, but it also provides yet another example of how laws that delegate enforcement authority to individuals inspire abuses with the lure of financial profit.

The attorney in question, Donald Holmes, represented Munich Re (Munich), an insurance company, in arbitration proceedings with Northrop Grumman Corporation (Northrop), the insured, in April 2010. Northrop had contracted with the United States Navy to construct ships, some of which were damaged as a result of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Holmes, along with a co-counsel, sought to obtain documents from the Navy professedly for use in the arbitration. Holmes and his co-counsel turned around and used the information to file an FCA suit against Northrop. Continue reading

FTC’s Actions on In-App Purchases Reflect Chilling Move Toward “Mother-May-I” Paternalism

amazonFederal regulatory agencies routinely act as table-setters for the plaintiffs’ bar. Class-action lawsuits can require targets of federal enforcement actions, even after those actions end in settlement, to defend against the same allegations in court. A federal judge’s April 3, 2015 dismissal of a class action on the ground that the company had already entered into a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), therefore, was a commendable outcome. The underlying FTC action that inspired the suit, however—an industry-wide investigation into companies’ in-app purchase procedures—is far less welcome. The Commission’s investigation is yet another example of government’s steady drift away from respecting permissionless innovation and toward “mother-may-I” paternalism.

FTC’s In-App Purchase Inquest. FTC initiated an investigation in 2011 of various companies’ mobile-app sales practices. The Commission had received complaints from parents that their children were making “unauthorized” purchases on mobile app stores. On January 15, 2014, Apple agreed to settle with FTC over charges that its in-app purchase process constituted an unfair business practice under § 5 of the FTC Act. On September 4, 2014, Google entered into a similar settlement. Both app sellers agreed to provide customers with refunds and alter their app sales practices.

In addition to Google and Apple, FTC also accused Amazon of unfair business practices for failing to prevent “unauthorized” in-app purchases.  Amazon, however, refused to settle the charges. The Commission filed suit on July 10, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. On December 1, 2014, Judge John C. Coughenour denied Amazon’s motion to dismiss. Continue reading