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United States v. Dentsply International

February 24, 2005

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT
v.
DENTSPLY INTERNATIONAL, INC.,



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE (D.C. Civ. No. 99-00005) District Judge: Honorable Sue L. Robinson, Chief Judge

Before: McKEE, Rosenn and Weis, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Weis, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued September 21, 2004

OPINION

In this antitrust case we conclude that an exclusivity policy imposed by a manufacturer on its dealers violates Section 2 of the Sherman Act. We come to that position because of the nature of the relevant market and the established effectiveness of the restraint despite the lack of long term contracts between the manufacturer and its dealers. Accordingly, we will reverse the judgment of the District Court in favor of the defendant and remand with directions to grant the Government's request for injunctive relief.

The Government alleged that Defendant, Dentsply International, Inc., acted unlawfully to maintain a monopoly in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2; entered into illegal restrictive dealing agreements prohibited by Section 3 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 14; and used unlawful agreements in restraint of interstate trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. After a bench trial, the District Court denied the injunctive relief sought by the Government and entered judgment for defendant.

In its comprehensive opinion, the District Court found the following facts. Dentsply International, Inc. is a Delaware Corporation with its principal place of business in York Pennsylvania. It manufactures artificial teeth for use in dentures and other restorative appliances and sells them to dental products dealers. The dealers, in turn, supply the teeth and various other materials to dental laboratories, which fabricate dentures for sale to dentists.

The relevant market is the sale of prefabricated artificial teeth in the United States.

Because of advances in dental medicine, artificial tooth manufacturing is marked by a low or no-growth potential. Dentsply has long dominated the industry consisting of 12-13 manufacturers and enjoys a 75% - 80% market share on a revenue basis, 67% on a unit basis, and is about 15 times larger than its next closest competitor. The other significant manufacturers and their market shares are:

Ivoclar Vivadent, Inc.5% Vita Zahnfabrik3% *Myerson LLC3% *American Tooth Industries2% *Universal Dental Company1% - 2% Heraeus Kulzer GmbH1% Davis, Schottlander & Davis, Ltd.<>

* These companies sell directly to dental laboratories as well as to dealers.

Dealers sell to dental laboratories a full range of metals, porcelains, acrylics, waxes, and other materials required to fabricate fixed or removal restorations. Dealers maintain large inventories of artificial teeth and carry thousands of products, other than teeth, made by hundreds of different manufacturers. Dentsply supplies $400 million of products other than teeth to its network of 23 dealers.

There are hundreds of dealers who compete on the basis of price and service among themselves, as well as with manufacturers who sell directly to laboratories. The dealer field has experienced significant consolidation with several large national and regional firms emerging.

For more than fifteen years, Dentsply has operated under a policy that discouraged its dealers from adding competitors' teeth to their lines of products. In 1993, Dentsply adopted "Dealer Criterion 6." It provides that in order to effectively promote Dentsply-York products, authorized dealers "may not add further tooth lines to their product offering." Dentsply operates on a purchase order basis with its distributors and, therefore, the relationship is essentially terminable at will. Dealer Criterion 6 was enforced against dealers with the exception of those who had carried competing products before 1993 and were "grandfathered" for sales of those products. Dentsply rebuffed attempts by those particular distributors to expand their lines of competing products beyond the grandfathered ones.

Dentsply's five top dealers sell competing grandfathered brands of teeth. In 2001, their share of Dentsply's overall sales were

Zahn39% Patterson28% Darby8% Benco4% DLDS<> TOTAL....83%

16,000 dental laboratories fabricate restorations and a subset of 7,000 provide dentures. The laboratories compete with each other on the basis of price and service. Patients and dentists value fast service, particularly in the case of lost or damaged dentures. When laboratories' inventories cannot supply the necessary teeth, dealers may fill orders for walk-ins or use over-night express mail as does Dentsply, which dropped-shipped some 60% of orders from dealers.

Dealers have been dissatisfied with Dealer Criterion 6, but, at least in the recent past, none of them have given up the popular Dentsply teeth to take on a competitive line. Dentsply at one time considered selling directly to the laboratories, but abandoned the concept because of fear that dealers would retaliate by refusing to buy its other dental products.

In the 1990's Dentsply implemented aggressive sales campaigns, including efforts to promote its teeth in dental schools, providing rebates for laboratories' increased usage, and deploying a sales force dedicated to teeth, rather than the entire product mix. Its chief competitors did not as actively promote their products. Foreign manufacturers were slow to alter their designs to cope with American preferences, and, in at least one instance, pursued sales of porcelain products rather than plastic teeth.

Dentsply has had a reputation for aggressive price increases in the market and has created a high price umbrella. Its artificial tooth business is characterized as a "cash cow" whose profits are diverted to other operations of the company. A report in 1996 stated its profits from teeth since 1990 had increased 32% from $16.8 million to $22.2 million.

The District Court found that Dentsply's business justification for Dealer Criterion 6 was pretextual and designed expressly to exclude its rivals from access to dealers. The Court however concluded that other dealers were available and direct sales to laboratories was a viable method of doing business. Moreover, it concluded that Dentsply had not created a market with supra competitive pricing, dealers were free to leave the network at any time, and the Government failed to prove that Dentsply's actions "have been or could be successful in preventing 'new or potential competitors from gaining a foothold in the market.'" United States v. Dentsply Int'l, Inc., 277 F. Supp. 2d 387, 453 (D. Del. 2003) (quoting LePage's, Inc. v. 3M, 324 F.3d 141, 159 (3d Cir. 2003)). Accordingly, the Court concluded that the Government had failed to establish violations of Section 3 of the Clayton Act and Sections 1 or 2 of the Sherman Act.

The Government appealed, contending that a monopolist that prevents rivals from distributing through established dealers has maintained its monopoly by acting with predatory intent and violates Section 2. Additionally, the Government asserts that the maintenance of a 75% - 80% market share, establishment of a price umbrella, repeated aggressive price increases and exclusion of competitors from a major source of distribution, show that Dentsply possesses monopoly power, despite the fact that rivals are not entirely excluded from the market and some of their prices are higher. The Government did not appeal the rulings under Section 1 of the Sherman Act or Section 3 of the Clayton Act.

Dentsply argues that rivals had obtained a share of the relevant market, that there are no artificially high prices and that competitors have access to all laboratories through existing or readily convertible systems. In addition, Dentsply asserts that its success is due to its leadership in promotion and marketing and not the imposition of Dealer Criterion 6.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We exercise de novo review over the District Court's conclusions of law. See Allen-Myland, Inc. v. IBM Corp., 33 F.3d 194, 201 (3d Cir. 1994). See also United States v. Microsoft, 253 F.3d 34, 50 (D.C. Cir. 2001). However, we will not disturb its findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. See Smith-Kline Corp. v. Eli Lilly and Co., 575 F.2d 1056, 1062 (3d Cir. 1978).

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

Section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2, provides that "[e]very person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person... to monopolize any part of the trade" is guilty of an offense and subject to penalties. In addition, the Government may seek injunctive relief. 15 U.S.C. § 4.

A violation of Section 2 consists of two elements: (1) possession of monopoly power and (2) "... maintenance of that power as distinguished from growth or development as a consequence of a superior product, business acumen, or historic accident." Eastman Kodak Co. v Image Technical Serv., Inc., 504 U.S. 451, 480 (1992) (citing United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563, 571 (1966)). "Monopoly power under § 2 requires... something greater than market power under § 1." Eastman Kodak Co., 504 U.S. at 481.

To run afoul of Section 2, a defendant must be guilty of illegal conduct "to foreclose competition, gain a competitive advantage, or to destroy a competitor." Id. at 482-83 (quoting United States v. Griffith, 334 U.S. 100, 107 (1948)). See generally Lorain Journal Co. v. United States, 342 U.S. 143 (1951). Behavior that otherwise might comply with antitrust law may be impermissibly exclusionary when practiced by a monopolist. As we said in LePage's, Inc. v. 3M, 324 F.3d 141, 151-52 (3d Cir. 2003), "a monopolist is not free to take certain actions that a company in a competitive (or even oligopolistic) market may take, because there is no market constraint on a monopolist's behavior." 3 Areeda & Turner, Antitrust Law ¶ 813, at 300-02 (1978).

Although not illegal in themselves, exclusive dealing arrangements can be an improper means of maintaining a monopoly. United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563 (1966); LePage's, 324 F.3d at 157. A prerequisite for such a violation is a finding that monopoly power exists. See, e.g., LePage's, 324 F.3d at 146. In addition, the exclusionary conduct must have an anti-competitive effect. See id. at 152, 159-63. If those elements are established, the monopolist still retains a defense of business justification. See id. at 152.

Unlawful maintenance of a monopoly is demonstrated by proof that a defendant has engaged in anti-competitive conduct that reasonably appears to be a significant contribution to maintaining monopoly power. United States v. Microsoft, 253 F.3d 34, 79 (D.C. Cir. 2001); 3 Phillip E. Areeda & Herbert Hovenkamp, Antitrust Law, ¶ 651c at 78 (1996). Predatory or exclusionary practices in themselves are not sufficient. There must be proof that competition, not merely competitors, has been harmed. LePage's, 324 F.3d at 162.

III. MONOPOLY POW ER

The concept of monopoly is distinct from monopoly power, which has been defined as the ability "to control prices or exclude competition." Grinnell, 384 U.S. at 571; see also United States v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., 351 U.S. 377 (1956). However, because such evidence is "only rarely available, courts more typically examine market structure in search of circumstantial evidence of monopoly power." Microsoft, 253 F.3d at 51. Thus, the existence of monopoly power may be inferred from a predominant share of the market, Grinnell, 384 U.S. at 571, and the size of that portion is a primary factor in determining whether power exists. Pennsylvania Dental Ass'n v. Med. Serv. Ass'n of Pa, 745 F.2d 248, 260 (3d Cir. 1984).

A less than predominant share of the market combined with other relevant factors may suffice to demonstrate monopoly power. Fineman v. Armstrong World Indus., 980 F.2d 171, 201 (3d Cir. 1992). Absent other pertinent factors, a share significantly larger than 55% has been required to established prima facie market power. Id. at 201. Other germane factors include the size and strength of competing firms, freedom of entry, pricing trends and practices in the industry, ability of consumers to substitute comparable goods, and consumer demand. See Tampa Elec. Co. v. Nashville ...


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