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Verizon Communications Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis v. Trinko

January 13, 2004

VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS INC., PETITIONER
v.
LAW OFFICES OF CURTIS V. TRINKO, LLP



On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Second Circuit Court Below: 305 F. 3d 89

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2003

Argued October 14, 2003

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 imposes upon an incumbent local exchange carrier (LEC) the obligation to share its telephone network with competitors, 47 U. S. C. §251(c), including the duty to provide access to individual network elements on an "unbundled" basis, see §251(c)(3). New entrants, so-called competitive LECs, combine and resell these unbundled network elements (UNEs). Petitioner Verizon Communications Inc., the incumbent LEC in New York State, has signed interconnection agreements with rivals such as AT&T, as §252 obliges it to do, detailing the terms on which it will make its network elements available. Part of Verizon's §251(c)(3) UNE obligation is the provision of access to operations support systems (OSS), without which a rival cannot fill its customers' orders. Verizon's interconnection agreement, approved by the New York Public Service Commission (PSC), and its authorization to provide long-distance service, approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), each specified the mechanics by which its OSS obligation would be met. When competitive LECs complained that Verizon was violating that obligation, the PSC and FCC opened parallel investigations, which led to the imposition of financial penalties, remediation measures, and additional reporting requirements on Verizon. Respondent, a local telephone service customer of AT&T, then filed this class action alleging, inter alia, that Verizon had filled rivals' orders on a discriminatory basis as part of an anticompetitive scheme to discourage customers from becoming or remaining customers of competitive LECs in violation of §2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U. S. C. §2. The District Court dismissed the complaint, concluding that respondent's allegations of deficient assistance to rivals failed to satisfy §2's requirements. The Second Circuit reinstated the antitrust claim.

Held: Respondent's complaint alleging breach of an incumbent LEC's 1996 Act duty to share its network with competitors does not state a claim under §2 of the Sherman Act. Pp. 5-16.

(a) The 1996 Act has no effect upon the application of traditional antitrust principles. Its saving clause -- which provides that "nothing in this Act ... shall be construed to modify, impair, or supersede the applicability of any of the antitrust laws," 47 U. S. C. §152, note --preserves claims that satisfy established antitrust standards, but does not create new claims that go beyond those standards. Pp. 5-7.

(b) The activity of which respondent complains does not violate pre-existing antitrust standards. The leading case imposing §2 liability for refusal to deal with competitors is Aspen Skiing Co. v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 472 U. S. 585, in which the Court concluded that the defendant's termination of a voluntary agreement with the plaintiff suggested a willingness to forsake short-term profits to achieve an anticompetitive end. Aspen is at or near the outer boundary of §2 liability, and the present case does not fit within the limited exception it recognized. Because the complaint does not allege that Verizon ever engaged in a voluntary course of dealing with its rivals, its prior conduct sheds no light upon whether its lapses from the legally compelled dealing were anticompetitive. Moreover, the Aspen defendant turned down its competitor's proposal to sell at its own retail price, suggesting a calculation that its future monopoly retail price would be higher, whereas Verizon's reluctance to interconnect at the cost-based rate of compensation available under §251(c)(3) is uninformative. More fundamentally, the Aspen defendant refused to provide its competitor with a product it already sold at retail, whereas here the unbundled elements offered pursuant to §251(c)(3) are not available to the public, but are provided to rivals under compulsion and at considerable expense. The Court's conclusion would not change even if it considered to be established law the "essential facilities" doctrine crafted by some lower courts. The indispensable requirement for invoking that doctrine is the unavailability of access to the "essential facilities"; where access exists, as it does here by virtue of the 1996 Act, the doctrine serves no purpose. Pp. 7-11.

(c) Traditional antitrust principles do not justify adding the present case to the few existing exceptions from the proposition that there is no duty to aid competitors. Antitrust analysis must always be attuned to the particular structure and circumstances of the industry at issue. When there exists a regulatory structure designed to deter and remedy anticompetitive harm, the additional benefit to competition provided by antitrust enforcement will tend to be small, and it will be less plausible that the antitrust laws contemplate such additional scrutiny. Here Verizon was subject to oversight by the FCC and the PSC, both of which agencies responded to the OSS failure raised in respondent's complaint by imposing fines and other burdens on Verizon. Against the slight benefits of antitrust intervention here must be weighed a realistic assessment of its costs. Allegations of violations of §251(c)(3) duties are both technical and extremely numerous, and hence difficult for antitrust courts to evaluate. Applying §2's requirements to this regime can readily result in "false positive" mistaken inferences that chill the very conduct the antitrust laws are designed to protect. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U. S. 574, 594. Pp. 11-16.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Scalia

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56, imposes certain duties upon incumbent local telephone companies in order to facilitate market entry by competitors, and establishes a complex regime for monitoring and enforcement. In this case we consider whether a complaint alleging breach of the incumbent's duty under the 1996 Act to share its network with competitors states a claim under §2 of the Sherman Act, 26 Stat. 209.

I.

Petitioner Verizon Communications Inc. is the incumbent local exchange carrier (LEC) serving New York State. Before the 1996 Act, Verizon,*fn1 like other incumbent LECs, enjoyed an exclusive franchise within its local service area. The 1996 Act sought to "uproo[t]" the incumbent LECs' monopoly and to introduce competition in its place. Verizon Communications Inc. v. FCC, 535 U. S. 467, 488 (2002). Central to the scheme of the Act is the incumbent LEC's obligation under 47 U. S. C. §251(c) to share its network with competitors, see AT&T Corp. v. Iowa Utilities Bd., 525 U. S. 366, 371 (1999), including provision of access to individual elements of the network on an "unbundled" basis. §251(c)(3). New entrants, so-called competitive LECs, resell these unbundled network elements (UNEs), recombined with each other or with elements belonging to the LECs.

Verizon, like other incumbent LECs, has taken two significant steps within the Act's framework in the direction of increased competition. First, Verizon has signed interconnection agreements with rivals such as AT&T, as it is obliged to do under §252, detailing the terms on which it will make its network elements available. (Because Verizon and AT&T could not agree upon terms, the open issues were subjected to compulsory arbitration under §§252(b) and (c).) In 1997, the state regulator, New York's Public Service Commission (PSC), approved Verizon's interconnection agreement with AT&T.

Second, Verizon has taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the 1996 Act for incumbent LECs to enter the long-distance market (from which they had long been excluded). That required Verizon to satisfy, among other things, a 14-item checklist of statutory requirements, which includes compliance with the Act's network-sharing duties. §§271(d)(3)(A) and (c)(2)(B). Checklist item two, for example, includes "nondiscriminatory access to network elements in accordance with the requirements" of §251(c)(3). §271(c)(2)(B)(ii). Whereas the state regulator approves an interconnection agreement, for long-distance ...


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