Professional Real Estate Investors, Inc. v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 508 U.S. 49 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 91-1043. Argued November 2, 1992—Decided May 3, 1993

Although those who petition government for redress are generally immune from antitrust liability, Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight, Inc., 365 U. S. 127, such immunity is withheld when petitioning activity "ostensibly directed toward influencing governmental action, is a mere sham to cover . . . an attempt to interfere directly" with a competitor's business relationships, id., at 144. Petitioner resort hotel operators (collectively, PRE) rented videodiscs to guests for use with videodisc players located in each guest's room and sought to develop a market for the sale of such players to other hotels. Respondent major motion picture studios (collectively, Columbia), which held copyrights to the motion pictures recorded on PRE's videodiscs and licensed the transmission of those motion pictures to hotel rooms, sued PRE for alleged copyright infringement. PRE counterclaimed, alleging that Columbia's copyright action was a mere sham that cloaked underlying acts of monopolization and conspiracy to restrain trade in violation of 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act. The District Court granted summary judgment to PRE on the copyright claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. On remand, the District Court granted Columbia's motion for summary judgment on PRE's antitrust claims. Because Columbia had probable cause to bring the infringement action, the court reasoned, the action was no sham and was entitled to Noerr immunity. The District Court also denied PRE's request for further discovery on Columbia's intent in bringing its action. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Noting that PRE's sole argument was that the lawsuit was a sham because Columbia did not honestly believe its infringement claim was meritorious, the court found that the existence of probable cause precluded the application of the sham exception as a matter of law and rendered irrelevant any evidence of Columbia's subjective intent in bringing suit.

Held: 1. Litigation cannot be deprived of immunity as a sham unless it is objectively baseless. This Court's decisions establish that the legality of objectively reasonable petitioning "directed toward obtaining govern-


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