Assistant Attorney General Addresses Antitrust Remedies in First Formal Remarks
On September 25, 2013, Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer gave his first formal remarks since becoming head of the Antitrust Division at the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) in January. Speaking at Georgetown Law’s Seventh Annual Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium, Baer’s address was entitled “Remedies Matter: The Importance of Achieving Effective Antitrust Outcomes.”
Baer emphasized that achieving a remedy that preserves or restores competition is more important than the government winning a particular lawsuit. He then addressed remedies in four contexts: merger remedies, civil non-merger remedies, civil disgorgement and criminal remedies.
Regarding mergers, Baer said that the DOJ “should only consider remedies that effectively resolve the competitive concerns and protect the competitive process.” He indicated that some deals are nearly unfixable and noting that litigation is not DOJ’s preferred option, Baer warned that reaching a consent decree takes time and cautioned parties against waiting until late in an investigation to engage the DOJ in negotiations. The proposed acquisition of Grupo Modelo by Anheuser-Busch InBev initially included a component addressing antitrust concerns, but the DOJ wanted more. Baer used the consent decree in that matter to highlight important provisions in “an effective merger remedy:” structural relief, a fully-vetted up-front buyer, a monitoring trustee and a conveyance of intellectual property and know-how.
For civil non-merger remedies, Baer pointed to the e-books litigation involving Apple and five of the six largest publishers in the United States. In prosecuting Apple for its role in the civil price-fixing conspiracy, DOJ was seeking a remedy “that would stamp out any lingering effects of the conspiracy,” prevent similar conduct in the future, and ensure Apple’s compliance, with “success … measured not by [DOJ’s] ability to prove the violation, but rather by the effectiveness of the remedies … obtained.” Baer believes the final judgment accomplishes this through antitrust compliance requirements, including an external compliance monitor.
Baer said that civil disgorgement is appropriate where an offending party would have otherwise “retained the monetary benefits of its anticompetitive conduct.” He also indicated that it would be a remedy considered in both merger and conduct cases. Pointing to the “broader legal landscape” and what some observers see as hurdles in private antitrust cases, Baer said that the DOJ would take into account the likelihood of success in private actions when it fashions its public remedies.
For criminal remedies, Baer discussed DOJ’s prosecution of AU Optronics Corporation, its U.S. subsidiary and two top executives for a criminal price-fixing conspiracy. The remedy included a $500 million fine, probation and an independent monitor to oversee an antitrust compliance program.
Baer appears open to developing creative remedies to achieve outcomes the agency finds most effective in “remedy[ing] anticompetitive conduct and guard[ing] against any recurrence.” Throughout the speech he emphasized the use of external monitors (the costs of which are borne by the offending parties) and difficult remedies to “fix” past offenses, including disgorgement and unwinding consummated mergers.