Texaco Inc v. Hasbrouck
Between 1972 and 1981, petitioner Texaco sold gasoline at its retail tank wagon prices to respondent independent Texaco retailers but granted substantial discounts to distributors Gull and Dompier. Gull resold the gas under its own name; the fact that it was being supplied by Texaco was unknown to respondents. Dompier paid a higher price than Gull and supplied its gas under the Texaco brand name to retail stations. With the encouragement of Texaco, Dompier entered the retail market directly. Both distributors picked up gas at the Texaco plant and delivered it directly to their retail outlets, and neither maintained any significant storage facilities. Unlike Gull, Dompier received an additional discount from Texaco for the deliveries. Texaco executives were well aware of Dompier's dramatic growth and attributed it to the magnitude of the discounts. During the relevant period, the stations supplied by the distributors increased their sales volume dramatically, while respondents' sales suffered a corresponding decline. In 1976, respondents filed suit against Texaco under the Robinson-Patman Act amendment to the Clayton Act (Act), alleging that the distributor discounts violated § 2(a) of the Act, which, among other things, forbids any person to "discriminate in price" between different purchasers of commodities, where the effect of such discrimination is substantially to "injure . . . competition with any person who either grants or knowingly receives the benefit of such discrimination, or with customers of either of them." The jury awarded respondents actual damages. The District Court denied Texaco's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Texaco had claimed that, as a matter of law, its "functional discounts" i.e., discounts that are given to a purchaser based on its role in the supplier's distributive system and reflect, at least in a generalized sense, the services performed by the purchaser for the supplier-did not adversely affect competition within the meaning of the Act. The District Court rejected Texaco's argument, reasoning that the "presumed legality of functional discounts" had been rebutted by evidence that the amount of Gull's and Dompier's discounts was not reasonably related to the cost of any function they performed. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
1. Respondents have satisfied their burden of proving that Texaco violated the Act. Pp. 554-571.
(a) Texaco's argument that it did not "discriminate in price" within the meaning of § 2(a) by charging different prices is rejected in light of this Court's holding in FTC v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 363 U.S. 536, 549, 80 S.Ct. 1267, 1274-75, 4 L.Ed.2d 1385 that "a price discrimination within the meaning of [§ 2(a) ] is merely a price difference." Texaco's argument, which would create a blanket exemption for all functional discounts, has some support in the legislative history of the Act, but is foreclosed by the text of the Act itself, which plainly reveals a concern with competitive consequences at different levels of distribution and carefully defines two specific affirmative defenses that are unavailable. Pp. 556-559.
(b) Also rejected is Texaco's argument that, at least to the extent that Gull and Dompier acted as wholesalers, the price differentials did not "injure . . . competition" within the meaning of the Act. It is true that a legitimate functional discount that constitutes a reasonable reimbursement for the purchasers' actual marketing functions does not violate the Act. Thus, such a discount raises no inference of injury to competition under FTC v. Morton Salt Co., 334 U.S. 37, 46-47, 68 S.Ct. 822, 828-29, 92 L.Ed. 1196. However, the Act does not tolerate a functional discount that is completely untethered either to the supplier's savings or the wholesaler's costs. This conclusion is consistent with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) practice, with Perkins v. Standard Oil Co. of Cal., 395 U.S. 642, 89 S.Ct. 1871, 23 L.Ed.2d 599, and with the analysis of antitrust commentators. The record here adequately supports the finding that Texaco violated the Act. There was an extraordinary absence of evidence to connect Gull's and Dompier's discounts to any savings enjoyed by Texaco. Both Gull and Dompier received the full discount on all purchases even though most of their volume was resold directly to consumers, and the extra margin on those sales obviously enabled them to price aggressively in both their retail and wholesale marketing. The Morton Salt presumption of adverse effect becomes all the more appropriate to the extent they competed with respondents in the retail market. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that Texaco was encouraging Dompier to integrate downward and was fully informed about the dramatic impact of the Dompier discount on the retail market at the same time that Texaco was inhibiting upward integration by respondents. Pp. 2544-2551.
2. There is no merit to Texaco's contention that the damages award must be judged excessive as a matter of law. Texaco's theory improperly blurs the distinction between the liability and damages issues. There is no doubt that respondents' proof of a continuing violation as to the discounts to both distributors throughout the 9-year damages period was sufficient. Proof of the specific amount of their damages necessarily was less precise, but the expert testimony provided a sufficient basis for an acceptable estimate of the amount of damages. Cf., e.g., J. Truett Payne Co. v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 451 U.S. 557, 565-566, 101 S.Ct. 1923, 1929, 68 L.Ed.2d 442. Pp. 571-573.
842 F.2d 1034 (CA9 1987), affirmed.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 573. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which KENNEDY, J., joined, post, p. 576.
Peter M. Fishbein, New York City, for petitioner.
Michael R. Dreeben, Washington, D.C., for the United States and Federal Trade Commission as amici curiae, supporting the petitioner, by special leave of Court.
Robert H. Whaley, Spokane, Wash., for respondent.
Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.