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sábado, 6 de abril de 2013

Infracciones por el objeto y por los efectos (per se y rule of reason)

El caso es Sulfuric Acid Antitrust Litigation y el ponente es Richard Posner.
Las empresas canadienses que producen ácido sulfúrico se encuentran con que no saben que hacer con él porque la regulación canadiense hace que sea económicamente ineficiente producir y almacenarlo. Son dos sociedades que están controladas por el mismo socio (Xtrata). Hay un mercado en los EE.UU. para ese ácido sulfúrico y las empresas estadounidenses que se dedican al mismo negocio producen dicho ácido a un precio/coste mayor. Los canadienses hablan con los estadounidenses y les convencen para que cesen en la producción del ácido y se conviertan en distribuidores de los canadienses. Los compradores del ácido demandan a los productores y piden que el acuerdo entre canadienses y estadounidenses se considere un cártel de fijación de precios o de limitación de la producción porque los estadounidenses habían aceptado cesar en la producción y convertirse en distribuidores del ácido sulfúrico canadiense y recibir una compensación por la diferencia de costes. El juez de 1ª instancia decide que es un caso de aplicación de la rule of reason, esto es, que no se trata de un cártel y, por tanto que ha de examinarse en detalle los términos de la transacción para ver si está prohibida o no por el Derecho de la Competencia. Los demandantes apelan pidiendo al tribunal de apelación que declare que se trata de un caso de per se restriction, esto es, que se trata de un cártel y que a los demandantes les basta con probar los daños (incremento de precio del ácido sulfúrico). Posner, ponente, hace un repaso de la doctrina sobre cuándo se aplica la regla per se (los acuerdos son tan obviamente restrictivos de la competencia que corresponde al demandado probar que son procompetitivos y si no lo prueba, resulta condenado) y cuándo se aplica la rule of reason según la cual, corresponde a los demandantes probar que los demandados consiguieron poder de mercado gracias al acuerdo y concluye que los hechos del caso conducen a calificar la posible infracción como una sometida a la rule of reason.

Dice Posner:
Doubtless in most cases the prima facie case under the rule of reason requires proof “that the defendant has sufficient market power to restrain competition substantially,” as we said in General Leaseways, Inc. v. National Truck Leasing Association, 744 F.2d 588, 596 (7th Cir. 1984). But a plaintiff who proves that the defendants got together and agreed to raise the price (whether directly or by restricting output, which would have the same effect) that he paid them to buy their products—which is what the plaintiffs in this case would have had to prove under the per se rule to establish liability and obtain damages—has made a prima facie case that the defendants’ behavior was unreasonable. He need not prove market power; even though by definition without it a firm or group of firms can’t harm competition, it is not a part of the prima facie case of illegal per se price fixing. E.g., National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Board of Regents, 468 U.S. 85, 109-10 (1984). But even if a challenged practice doesn’t quite rise to the level of per se illegality, it may be close enough to shift to the defendant the burden of showing that appearances are deceptive and really the behavior that the plaintiffs have challenged is not anticompetitive. Of course there would be more work for the plaintiffs if the defendants in this case were able to create a triable issue of justification, but, as we have just explained, probably less than they think.
It is relevant that we have never seen or heard of an antitrust case quite like this, combining such elements as involuntary production and potential antidumping exposure. It is a bad idea to subject a novel way of doing business (or an old way in a new and previously unexamined context, which may be a better description of this case) to per se treatment under antitrust law. Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877, 886-87 (2007); Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., supra, 441 U.S. at 9-10. The per se rule is designed for cases in which experience has convinced the judiciary that a particular type of business practice has no (or trivial) redeeming benefits ever.
The shutdown agreements are a form of price fixing, but we know from Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 441 U.S. 1, 24 (1979), that even price fixing by agreement between competitors—and from Polk Bros., Inc. v. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., 776 F.2d 185, 189 (7th Cir. 1985), that other agreements that restrict competition, as well—are governed by the rule of reason, rather than being per se illegal, if the challenged practice when adopted could reasonably have been believed to promote “enterprise and productivity.” Id. The entry of Noranda and Falconbridge into the U.S. sulfuric acid market was likely to result in an eventual fall in the price of acid in that market, an unequivocally socially beneficial effect from an economic standpoint. If the agreements facilitated that entry, their net effect on economic welfare may well have been positive, especially since the negative effects may have been few because of the higher production costs of the U.S. companies

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