International Boxing Club of New York v. United States/Dissent Frankfurter

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

358 U.S. 242

International Boxing Club of New York  v.  United States

 Argued: Nov. 13, 1958. --- Decided: Jan 12, 1959

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, dissenting in part.

While I have heretofore expressed views in favor of the almost controlling deference to be paid to a District Court's considered formulation of the provisions appropriate to a decree designed to remedy adjudicated violations of the antitrust laws, those views have not prevailed, see the opinions in United States v. Paramount Pictures, 334 U.S. 131, 68 S.Ct. 915, 92 L.Ed. 1260, and this Court has felt free to modify and eliminate provisions of an antitrust decree, particularly when a single judge has imposed an unconventional and drastic remedy. The main issue dealt with in Mr. Justice HARLAN'S dissent, while a narrow one, is, in my view, important. While divestiture has been decreed by the district judge, the mandatory disposition of the stock has been delayed for five years, and the stock placed in trusteeship. During this five-year period a series of detailed controls have been imposed, under the supervision of the District Court, in order to prevent appellants Norris and Wirtz from exercising the power their stock ownership has given them over the operations of Madison Square Garden. The ownership itself has been sterilized. I think it not an unreasonable forecast that, even were we to postpone for five years the decision whether to order the divestiture or continue the trusteeship, appellants Norris and Wirtz would not find it profitable to continue their sterilized ownership of the Garden stock. However, there is no compelling reason to order them to do what sound business judgment may compel. One has the right to assume that, in view of this Court's unanimous affirmance of the findings below that appellants were in violation of the Sherman Law, they will scrupulously obey the decree and not even by the subtlest indirection seek to avoid our decision. Therefore I think it is needless now to determine that divestiture must take place five years hence, rather than wait upon the event in order to determine whether divestiture should then be ordered.

Accordingly, I join Mr. Justice HARLAN'S opinion.

Mr. Justice HARLAN, whom Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER and Mr. Justice WHITTAKER join, dissenting in part.

I am unable to subscribe to the Court's approval of those parts of the decree below which ordered (1) the divestiture of the stockholdings of Norris and Wirtz in Madison Square Garden Corporation and (2) the dissolution of the New York and Illinois International Boxing Clubs. On the other aspects of the case I agree with the results the Court has reached.


As a starting point I accept the conclusion of the District Court that competition in the promotion and exhibition of professional championship boxing could not be effectively restored so long as Norris and Wirtz remained in control of Madison Square Garden's activities in this field. Because of the pre-eminence of the Garden as a site for boxing contests, the District Court found that its control by Norris and Wirtz constituted the fulcrum of the antitrust violations which were adjudged. That finding is supported by the evidence, and in turn justifies the court's conclusion that the elimination of their influence in the Garden was prerequisite to restoring competition.

It by no means follows, however, that the order divesting Norris and Wirtz of their Garden stockholdings was an appropriate method of accomplishing that objective in the circumstances of this case. Unless past pronouncements of this Court cautioning against the indiscriminate use of divestiture as a remedy in antitrust cases, see Timken Roller Bearing Co. v. United States, 341 U.S. 593, 71 S.Ct. 971, 95 L.Ed. 1199, are to be taken less seriously than theyshould be, it seems to me that the Court has too lightly given approval to the use of that drastic measure here.

First. It is not at all clear to me just why the District Court, which in the early stages of the hearings on relief expressed itself strongly against divestiture, ultimately reached the conclusion that such a course was necessary. Indeed the record can be read as indicating the court's belief that the five-year trusteeship of the stock, though designed to alleviate some of the hardships of a forced sale, would at the same time effectively remove Norris and Wirtz from control over the Garden's affairs and therefore in conjunction with the other provisions of the decree result in restoring competitive conditions, whether or not the correlative requirement of sale was carried out within the five-year period. [1] The decree itself supports this reading. For despite the evident realization that the stock might not be sold within five years, the provisions of the decree especially aimed at opening up competition for the use of the Garden are all geared to this period. If in fact the District Court thought this five-year insulation of Norris and Wirtz from managerial and policy-making activities at the Garden would combine with the other restrictions to restore competition, justification for divestiture must then be found in a purpose to prevent a relapse into noncompetitive conditions after the five years have elapsed, something which the District Court quite properly considered to be a function of the decree. On this premise I am at a loss to see why continuance of the trusteeship, and, if necessary, the concomitant restrictions of the Garden's activities, should not have been considered adequate to serve that end.

Second. If I am mistaken in thus divining the thinking of the District Court, I still consider that in the circumstances of this case divestiture was at least ordered prematurely. Determination whether that drastic remedy was required should have been postponed until the expiration of the trusteeship period so that the necessity for its application could then be judged in light of the effectiveness of the other sanctions of the decree. I recognize that various contingencies can be conjured up to support the view that divestiture, rather than trusteeship, holds the more solid promise of assuring the preservation of competition. Nevertheless I think that rejection of a continuance of the trusteeship in favor of divestiture should, in the peculiar setting of this case, be based on experience rather than speculative apprehension.

Three factors seem to me especially compelling toward such a course. In the first place, this cannot properly be considered a case of reprehensible immoral conduct or willful lawbreaking. [2] Not until January 31, 1955, when this Court handed down its opinion in United States v. International Boxing Club, 348 U.S. 236, 75 S.Ct. 259, 99 L.Ed. 290, did it become known that professional boxing was even subject to the federal antitrust laws. In view of this Court's earlier decisions in the baseball cases, Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League, 259 U.S. 200, 42 S.Ct. 465, 66 L.Ed. 898, and Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc., 346 U.S. 356, 74 S.Ct. 78, 98 L.Ed. 412, I think it reasonable to say that in 1949 when this alleged conspiracy began most well-informed lawyers believed that professional boxing, like professional baseball, was beyond antitrust stricture. Hence the appellants had every reason to believe their actions were innocent when taken. Putting the matter somewhat differently, we should be slow in lending approval to the use of such a drastic remedy as this in a case where the appellants have never had the opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to comply with the law once they have learned that it applies to their activities. In my opinion, the thrust of this factor is not blunted by arguing, as the Court does, that appellants should voluntarily have done something to unscramble their relationships during the two and a half years that elapsed between the Court's decision in the original International Boxing case and the entry of the present decree. That sort of squeeze play should not be expected of those already involved in a lawsuit.

Further, divestiture here is brought to bear upon a large investment much of which was acquired long before the conduct charged in this case began, and the balance of which was obtained prior to the announcement of the International Boxing decision. The 'unlawful fruits' doctrine accordingly offers no justification for this divestiture. Although recognizing this to be true, the Court states that the Garden stock was nonetheless utilized as means of accomplishing the antitrust violations. But this is just another way of saying that divestiture is a necessary element of effective relief; it affords no independent justification for the employment of that remedy.

Lastly, the divestiture order reaches far beyond the subject matter of the action. It permanently removes Norris and Wirtz from all interest in the Garden, over 90% of whose activities are entirely unrelated to professional boxing.

Third. It is true, of course, that the trial court's considered judgment on what is necessary to dissipate the effects and prevent recurrence of an adjudged antitrust violation is entitled to much deference from this Court. But by the same token this Court, before it is asked to put its stamp of approval on such a drastic remedy as divestiture, is entitled to have a clear and unambiguous expression of the district court's reasoning in choosing such a course. Especially is this so where, as here, this Court is the sole reviewing authority and in consequence has not had the benefit of an intermediate review of the issues by a Court of Appeals. In my opinion this record leaves much to be desired in this regard. The most I can make of it, taking the case for divestiture most favorably to the Government, is that the District Court would have been justified in reserving that issue for consideration at the time the five-year trusteeship of the Norris and Wirtz stock expired. Certainly no adequate case for a present order of divestiture has been made out. In this view of the matter it becomes unnecessary to discuss at this time the various 'options' alternative to divestiture which were rejected by the District Court.


I can find no adequate basis for the order dissolving the two International Boxing Clubs. My difficulty with this aspect of the relief is sufficiently shown by the fact that, as I read the record, it would be permissible for Madison Square Garden and the Norris and Wirtz interests in Chicago to create new corporations carrying exactly the same name as the two present organizations. The only justification offered by the Government for this aspect of the decree is that the two clubs were instrumentalities of the antitrust conspiracy and that their dissolution was but an expedient for insuring that all of their illegal agreements had been put to an end. But since all such agreements, both written and oral, are already canceled by other provisions of the decree, and since there is no suggestion that the sweeping relief granted by the District Court has any loopholes which would permit these organizations to function improperly, this justification is hardly convincing. In these circumstances disslution appears to me to be not only punitive but futile, something not promotive of sound antitrust law enforcement.

I would remand the case to the District Court with instructions to modify its decree by striking the provisions for compulsory sale of the Norris and Wirtz stock in the Madison Square Garden Corporation, reserving the issue of divestiture for further proceedings at the end of the five-year trusteeship period, and eliminating the requirement of dissolution of the two International Boxing Clubs.


^1  Apart from its divestiture and dissolution provisions, the decree imposes wide-ranging and pervasive restrictions on appellants' activities in boxing promotion and exhibition. It renders void all exclusive contracts which they may presently have with boxers. It prohibits the making of new exclusive contracts, with the exception that, after five years, exclusive provision may be made for return bouts. Similarly, exclusive leases with stadia not owned by appellants are proscribed. So, too, are such arrangements with television and radio broadcasters. Further, appellants are restrained, for a period of five years, from promoting more than four championship boxing programs annually, two by Madison Square Garden and two, cumulatively, by Norris and Wirtz. During that five-year period also, the compulsory leasing provisions discussed in the Court's opinion are to be in effect. Finally, the decree removes Norris and Wirtz as officers and directors of Madison Square Garden, and enjoins them from holding such positions in the future.

^2  The District Court put the matter in this way: 'I don't charge them (Norris and Wirtz) with malicious intentional and moral wrongdoing, nor do I proceed to formulate the decree on such a basis. They are guilty, if anything, of a moral, prohibitive wrong, which was in doubt as to whether it was even prohibitive at the time some of these acts were done, and serious doubt, but most people held it was not.'

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).