The tide of regulation of cryptocurrency and blockchain could be turning in the United States. Following comments by newly-confirmed Treasury Secretary (and former Federal Reserve Chair) Janet Yellen describing Bitcoin as “inefficient” and “extremely volatile,” the price of the coin dropped 10% in 24 hours. During her confirmation hearings, Yellen described cryptocurrencies as a “particular concern” and signaled that the Treasury would begin examining blockchain-based financial networks. On the heels of Secretary Yellen’s comments, Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC), head of the House Financial Services Committee, and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Chair of the Financial Technologies Task Force, introduced H.R. 1602, bipartisan legislation which directs the CFTC and the SEC to “jointly establish a digital asset working group” to “provide regulatory clarity” and to “create a critical collaboration [between the two agencies to] create fair and transparent markets.” Notably absent from this proposed collaboration is any mention of antitrust enforcement or involvement of the DOJ antitrust division or the FTC. However, recent comments by outgoing DOJ chair Makan Delrahim provide clues as to how antitrust may play a part in the regulatory framework for blockchain and cryptocurrency.
Stephen Chuk is a senior counsel in Proskauer’s Antitrust and Sports Groups. He advises companies in complex multidistrict litigation, cartel cases, and compliance matters. Stephen also counsels individuals and corporate clients facing criminal and regulatory investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, and state attorneys general.
Stephen has extensive experience advising on antitrust matters involving alleged claims of price fixing, monopolization, group boycott, and bid rigging across a wide range of industries, including fintech, sports, agriculture, and health care. In addition, he advises on consumer protection matters involving marketing practices and false advertising.
The change in the White House administration combined with a potential ground-breaking Supreme Court decision may move the oversight and enforcement for marketing by the fintech sector from the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”). This would be a tectonic shift.
As businesses across the globe grapple with the changing realities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. and international antitrust enforcers have warned that business should continue to mind the antitrust laws. Global enforcers are also focusing on the role competition laws play as industries – both essential and hard-hit – grapple with the new environment.
The Xbox 360 is designed for gaming. Appellate litigation, gamers learned, is not.
On behalf of a putative class of purchasers of the Xbox 360, a group of gamers brought suit alleging a defect with the consoles. After the district court struck the class allegations, plaintiffs sought permission to appeal under Rule 23(f), which the Ninth Circuit denied. Rather than proceeding in litigation to final judgment, plaintiffs instead voluntarily dismissed their claims, with prejudice, while reserving a right to appeal the order striking class allegations. Plaintiffs then appealed the order under Section 1291. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that it had appellate jurisdiction and thus the case was still “sufficiently adverse” to be heard under §1291. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the question of whether courts of appeals “have jurisdiction under §1291 and Article III . . . to review an order denying class certification (or, as here, an order striking class allegations) after the named plaintiffs have voluntarily dismissed their claims with prejudice.”
Defendants in a putative class action lawsuit alleging wage fixing antitrust claims no longer need to count sheep to rest easily. A district court judge in Colorado recently denied plaintiffs’ request for leave to amend, effectively dismissing claims brought by a group of shepherds working under the H-2A Visa Program, which covers agricultural guest workers. In Llacua et al. v. Western Range Association et al. report and recommendation adopted, plaintiffs alleged that two trade associations representing sheep ranchers, and some of their members, conspired to suppress the wages paid to shepherds in violation of the Sherman Act. The Court adopted the Magistrate Judge’s ruling that plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege a conspiracy and failed to allege facts sufficient to warrant granting leave to amend their Complaint a third time, describing the Magistrate Judge’s opinion as a “masterful and cogent” analysis of the substantive allegations. Because this is one of the first judicial opinions following the DOJ and FTC’s recent announcement of an initiative to prosecute wage fixing claims, the Magistrate’s report and recommendation provides important guidance for associations and their members facing similar claims.
We wrote here previously regarding the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Shane Group v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan vacating a class action settlement because the district court improperly refused to unseal the parties’ substantive filings. In revisiting the district court’s sealing orders, the Court of Appeals found that the parties’ cursory justifications for their sealing requests were “patently inadequate.” And based on this failure to elucidate reasons for sealing, the Sixth Circuit vacated every one of the district court’s sealing orders. Since its decision in June, the Sixth Circuit had occasion to interpret and apply Shane Group, and in doing so, offered key learnings for litigants seeking to toe the line for compliance with the Sixth Circuit’s newly-pronounced standard.
Before plaintiffs could light the pilot on antitrust claims against two propane tank distributors, a split Eighth Circuit panel cut the gas. In doing so, the majority espoused a narrow view of the applicability of the continuing violations theory in antitrust litigation.
In 2014, following an FTC administrative complaint, class plaintiffs brought suit against defendant distributors Ferrellgas and AmeriGas, alleging that in 2008, facing rising costs of propane, the distributors conspired to reduce the fill level of 20-pound propane tanks from 17 pounds to 15 pounds while maintaining the price. Though a separate group of indirect purchasers settled with Defendants regarding similar claims in 2008, Plaintiffs argued that Defendants’ conspiracy continued, and that Defendants continued to sell the propane tanks at higher prices and at lower fill levels long after the settlements.
Non-disclosure and confidentiality provisions can be an important aspect of resolving a case through settlement. But when one of the parties is a purported class, and the allegation is an antitrust violation, settlement and secrecy may be like water and oil.
This tension came to a head in Shane Group v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, in which the Sixth Circuit vacated a $30 million settlement between the defendant and a class of Michigan citizens and corporations, settling allegations of health insurance price fixing. The reason: the district court refused to unseal the parties’ substantive filings – including the Amended Complaint, the motion for class certification, and the expert report on which the settlement was based. When a group of class members moved to intervene to unseal parts of the record and adjourn Rule 23 fairness hearings until they could review the settlement, the district court denied their motion to intervene. In the district court’s own view, the settlement was “fair, reasonable, and adequate,” and thus, class members had no further need for information about the case.