Congress has passed numerous acts over the years that have established and strengthened antitrust laws. Antitrust laws are designed to protect consumers as well as other businesses from a variety of unfair trade and commerce actions. If you are found guilty of violating established antitrust laws, you may be responsible for huge fines and other potentially devastating ramifications. Building a strong defense against the accusations could ultimately save your business tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and help you to avoid other consequences. What should you know about defending yourself against antitrust violations?
Understanding Antitrust Violations
Antitrust violations are investigated by the Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission identifies and investigates matters related to unfair or deceptive practices across state lines. The primary antitrust laws in place today are the Clayton Act and the Sherman Act, but be aware that some states have passed their own antitrust laws as well. This means that companies may face antitrust violations at both the state and federal levels.
These laws protect fair trade and commerce by targeting unfair acts like monopolies, price-fixing and more. Specifically, the Sherman Act prohibits monopolies, price-fixing and other unfair practices. The Clayton Act was passed as an amendment to established law at the time, and it restricts mergers and acquisitions that could result in a monopoly or in other unfair outcomes. It has been amended to require companies to notify the government of a merger or acquisition that may be in question.
The Federal Trade Commission Act is an independent antitrust law. It prohibits unfair competition as well as deceptive and unfair acts and practices. According to the Supreme Court, all Sherman Act violations are violations of the FTC Act. However, not all FTC Act violations are violations of the Sherman Act. With this in mind, the companies or individuals who are charged with violating the Sherman Act may also face FTC charges. Be aware that only the Federal Trade Commission is permitted to pursue punishments under this act.
Penalties for Antitrust Violations
There are both civil and criminal penalties for antitrust violations. Possible outcomes of a civil matter are divestiture, an injunction or the nullification of a corporate contract. Under the Clayton Act, private parties are permitted to sue companies that violate antitrust laws for up to three times the amount of the damages.
Both individuals and companies may be prosecuted criminally for antitrust violations. In most criminal cases, specific acts of price-fixing and other unfair practices are clear. A criminal penalty can result in up to a $100 million fine for businesses. For individuals, the penalties are up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $1 million. However, the actual fine may be established as twice the financial loss to victims or twice the financial gain of the conspirators.
Defense Strategies for Antitrust Violations
At the federal level, the Department of Justice has the full authority to investigate possible antitrust violations and to establish a grand jury inquiry. You should be aware that the Sherman Act is inclusive of all antitrust acts as well as conspiracies to commit unfair acts. More than that, the “per se” law leaves no room for a defense argument or for a company to attempt to justify its actions.
In some cases, class action civil lawsuits have been filed by private parties or by other companies that have been impacted by a monopolistic situation. A defense attorney may use a variety of strategies to protect clients in these cases. Often, these cases overlap numerous jurisdictions and have complex nuances. With this in mind, the services of a skilled antitrust defense lawyer are crucial.
Contact a Defense Lawyer Today
Often, a criminal investigation of antitrust law violations coincides with or is quickly followed by a civil lawsuit. While there is no acceptable defense for criminal charges of antitrust violations, there are defenses that may be used in civil lawsuits. These defenses may be used to reduce the defendant’s liability, to settle outside of the courtroom or to obtain another advantageous ruling. With this in mind, it is imperative that you engage the legal services of an experienced defense attorney if you are faced with antitrust violations.
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