Brooke Group Ltd. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 509 U.S. 209 (1993)

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

No. 92-466. Argued March 29, 1993—Decided June 21, 1993

Cigarette manufacturing is a concentrated industry dominated by only six firms, including the two parties here. In 1980, petitioner (hereinafter Liggett) pioneered the economy segment of the market by developing a line of generic cigarettes offered at a list price roughly 30% lower than that of branded cigarettes. By 1984, generics had captured 4% of the market, at the expense of branded cigarettes, and respondent Brown & Williamson entered the economy segment, beating Liggett's net price. Liggett responded in kind, precipitating a price war, which ended, according to Liggett, with Brown & Williamson selling its generics at a loss. Liggett filed this suit, alleging, inter alia, that volume rebates by Brown & Williamson to wholesalers amounted to price discrimination that had a reasonable possibility of injuring competition in violation of 2(a) of the Clayton Act, as amended by the Robinson-Patman Act. Liggett claimed that the rebates were integral to a predatory pricing scheme, in which Brown & Williamson set below-cost prices to pressure Liggett to raise list prices on its generics, thus restraining the economy segment's growth and preserving Brown & Williamson's supracompetitive profits on branded cigarettes. After a jury returned a verdict in favor of Liggett, the District Court held that Brown & Williamson was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Among other things, it found a lack of injury to competition because there had been no slowing of the generics' growth rate and no tacit coordination of prices in the economy segment by the various manufacturers. In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that the dynamic of conscious parallelism among oligopolists could not produce competitive injury in a predatory pricing setting.

Held: Brown & Williamson is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Pp. 219-243. (a) The Robinson-Patman Act, by its terms, condemns price discrimination only to the extent that it threatens to injure competition. A claim of primary-line competitive injury under the Act, the type alleged here, is of the same general character as a predatory pricing claim under 2 of the Sherman Act: A business rival has priced its products in an unfair manner with an object to eliminate or retard competition and thereby gain and exercise control over prices in the relevant market.


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