The American Antitrust Institute (AAI) and the University of San Francisco School of Law (USF Law) released a commentary (Commentary) on a new annual report examining antitrust class actions in federal court from 2009 to 2019. The 2019 Antitrust Annual Report (2019 Report) finds that cases settled since 2009 have recovered more than $24 billion on behalf of victims of antitrust violations. The 2019 Report, which expands on last year’s 2018 Antitrust Annual Report (2018 Report) was jointly produced by USF Law and Huntington National Bank.
Private enforcement actions are brought under two main federal statutes—the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act—and various states’ laws. The laws prohibit collusive agreements, monopolization, and mergers that are likely substantially to lessen competition. Federal courts oversee many private enforcement actions.
“With increasing concerns over the ill effects of high market concentration in critical sectors and markets, private enforcement is more important than ever,” said AAI President Diana Moss. “We see strong evidence of increased filings and recoveries in antitrust class actions from 2009-2019, and at the same time we see federal antitrust enforcement action, particularly against illegal conspiracies, in decline. Private enforcement remains a critical tool in the U.S. enforcement system and can deliver meaningful compensation to victims and deter future illegal conduct. The 2019 Report and Commentary together highlight the significant results achieved through private antitrust enforcement,” explained Moss.
“The 2019 Antitrust Annual Report is the second installment in this pioneering annual research effort,” Professor Joshua Davis, Director of the Center for Law and Ethics, University of San Francisco School of Law, noted. “The law firms prosecuting private antitrust enforcement actions play a crucial role in the public interest as private attorneys general, particularly when enforcement by federal agencies is waning. The U.S. system relies almost entirely on private enforcement to compensate victims. Moreover, private damages often dwarf the sanctions imposed by government actors, providing a critical deterrent to wrongdoers,” Professor Davis explained.
“The depth and breadth of the data assembled in the 2019 Report provides critical perspective for understanding trends in public and private enforcement over time,” said Laura Alexander, AAI’s Vice President of Policy. “With this report, we can better understand the real impact of pivotal court decisions on the ability of private enforcers to bring cases and recover compensation for victims illegal anticompetitive conduct.”
The AAI-USF Law Commentary highlights a number of key takeaways from the 2019 Report’s data on antitrust actions over the period 2009-2019. These collectively signal the efficiency and effectiveness of private enforcement — and the antitrust class action in particular.
- Private enforcement resources are focused efficiently on violations that harm victims, such as consumers and businesses. The 2019 Report reflects, among other things, considerable overlap between the industries where private and public enforcers find misconduct. “The data demonstrate that the congressional plan for parallel private and public enforcement works efficiently, often against well-resourced defendants,” commented AAI’s Moss.
- Private antitrust enforcement continues to be effective. From to 2009 to 2019, there was robust growth in total annual settlement amounts, with smaller settlement providing the backbone for private antitrust enforcement. Total settlement amounts showed robust growth over the period, which was particularly driven by an increase in very large settlements (around or above $1 billion). But smaller settlements of up to $50 million per case also held steady over the period, notwithstanding increasingly challenging law and procedure facing enforcers. “This growth in recoveries overall signals that private enforcement is effective, and that smaller settlements continue as the strong core of private enforcement” noted Moss.
- Private enforcement focused on victims directly harmed by large, often global antitrust conspiracies remains critical, but enforcement on behalf of indirect purchasers and victims of illegal monopolization also plays a crucial role. While the vast majority of the recoveries over the period 2009-2019 came from conspiracy cases brought by direct purchasers, both indirect purchaser cases and monopolization cases played an important role. “Monopolization and attempted monopolization cases—so-called conduct cases—are often thought to be unicorns. This data shows that, far from it, these cases result in substantial recoveries and may represent an overlooked area where more enforcement would be fruitful,” observed Professor Davis.
The Commentary provides additional insight into antitrust class actions over the period 2009-2019, with sections on influential case law surrounding two-sided transaction platforms, the indirect-purchaser rule, classes containing uninjured members, and agreements among employers that restrict employee hiring and wages.
“The Commentary uses the occasion of the 2019 Report to step back and observe the U.S. private enforcement system and the antitrust class action device through a broader lens, both empirically and qualitatively,” Alexander stated. Davis noted further that the 2019 Report “Highlights fruitful areas for further academic work in studying private antitrust enforcement actions, their deterrence effect, and compensation for victims of illegal activity.”
Based in Washington, D.C., the American Antitrust Institute is an independent, nonprofit organization devoted to promoting competition that protects consumers, businesses, and society. It serves the public through research, education, and advocacy on the benefits of competition and the use of antitrust enforcement as a vital component of national and international competition policy.
Founded in 1912, the University of San Francisco School of Law provides a rigorous education – from intellectual property law to litigation and more — with a global perspective in a diverse, supportive community. It is fully accredited by the American Bar Association and a member of the Association of American Law Schools.
For more information, contact:
Diana Moss, President, American Antitrust Institute
Joshua Paul Davis, Professor of Law, University of San Francisco School of Law
Laura Alexander, Vice President of Policy, American Antitrust Institute