California v. American Stores Company/Concurrence Kennedy

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Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinion

Justice KENNEDY, concurring.

In agreement with our holding that § 16 of the Clayton Act does authorize divestiture as a remedy for violations of § 7 of the Clayton Act, I join the Court's opinion. I write further to note that both the respondents and various interested labor unions, the latter as amici curiae, have argued for a different result on the basis of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (Clayton Act § 7A, as added and amended), 15 U.S.C. § 18a. See Brief for Respondents 47-48; Brief for United Food and Commercial International Union et al. as Amici Curiae 7-15. Although I do not believe that § 7A is controlling as an interpretation of the earlier enacted § 16, it may be of vital relevance in determining whether to order divestiture in a particular case.

Section 7A enables the Federal Government to review certain transactions that might violate § 7 before they occur. The provision, in brief, requires those contemplating an acquisition within its coverage to provide the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with the information necessary for determining "whether such acquisition may, if consummated, violate the antitrust laws." 15 U.S.C. § 18a(d)(1). During the mandatory waiting period that follows the submission of this information, see § 18a(b)(1), the agency may decide, as it did in this case, to negotiate a settlement intended to eliminate potential violations. See 16 CFR §§ 2.31-2.34 (1989). The procedure may resolve antitrust disputes in a manner making it easier for businesses and unions to predict the consequences of mergers and to conform their economic strategies in accordance with the probable outcome.

The respondents, and the unions in their brief as amici, argue that a State or private person should not have the power to sue for divestiture under § 16 following a settlement approved by the FTC. They maintain that the possibility of such actions will reduce the Federal Government's negotiating strength and destroy the predictability that Congress sought to provide when it enacted § 7A. It is plausible, in my view, that allowing suits under § 16 may have these effects in certain instances. But the respondents and unions have identified nothing in § 7A that contradicts the Court's interpretation of § 7 and § 16. Section 7A, indeed, may itself contain language contrary to their position. See, e.g., 15 U.S.C. § 18a(i)(1). Although Congress might desire at some point to enact a strict rule prohibiting divestiture after a negotiated settlement with the FTC, it has not done so yet.

The Court's opinion, however, does not render compliance with the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act irrelevant to divestiture actions under § 16. The Act, for instance, may bear upon the issue of laches. By establishing a time period for review of merger proposals by the FTC, § 7A may lend a degree of objectivity to the laches determination. Here the State received the respondents' § 7A filings in mid-April 1988, see Brief for Petitioner 3, and so had formal notice of the parties' intentions well before completion of the merger or the settlement with the FTC. It elected not to act at that time, but now seeks a divestiture which, the facts suggest, would upset labor agreements and other matters influenced in important ways by the FTC proceeding. These considerations should bear upon the ultimate disposition of the case. As the Ninth Circuit stated:

"California could have sued several months earlier and attempted to enjoin the merger before the stock sale was completed. The Attorney General chose not to do so. California must accept the consequences of his choice." 872 F.2d 837, 846 (1989).

With the understanding that these consequences may include the bar of laches, I join the Court's decision.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).