It has long been the case that Sherman Act Section 1 Rule of Reason claims as well as Section 2 claims require proof of harm to competition. But the courts, particularly in the Ninth Circuit, have been tightening up on the requirement to plead such harm, as evidenced by the recent case of Orchard Supply Hardware LLC v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist LEXIS 53214 (Apr. 11, 2013) (Tigar, J).
In Orchard Supply, the plaintiff, a retailer, challenged Home Depot’s alleged agreements with several tool manufacturers to be the exclusive carrier of the manufacturers’ lines of power tools and accessories. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s Rule of Reason claim, although it granted leave to amend.
The complaint’s defect was its failure to allege harm to competition itself. Although the complaint alleged that the exclusives would enable Home Depot to charge higher prices and deprive consumers of choice, this is not enough. As the court held, “[a]llegations that an agreement has the effect of reducing consumers’ choices or increasing prices to consumers does not sufficiently allege an injury to competition.” Id. at *16, quoting Brantley v. NBC Universal, Inc., 675 F.3d 1192, 1202 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 573 (2012).
In the case of exclusives, if they actually or potentially cause substantial market foreclosure or the exit of competitors, harm to competition may exist. But higher consumer prices do not themselves amount to an actionable antitrust injury.