Marion HealthCare, LLC. v. Becton Dickinson & Co., No. 18-3735 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Healthcare providers often do not purchase medical devices directly from the manufacturer; they join group purchasing organizations (GPOs), which negotiate prices with manufacturers. The provider chooses a distributor to deliver the product. The distributor enters into contracts with the provider and the manufacturer, incorporating the price and other terms that the GPO negotiated, plus a markup for the distributor. A GPO negotiated with Becton (a manufacturer) on the plaintiff-providers’ behalf; a distributor delivered the devices.
Had Becton acted alone, selling its products to an independent distributor, which then sold them to a provider, the Supreme Court’s 1977 “Illinois Brick” rule would bar the provider from suing Becton for any alleged monopoly overcharges. Only buyers who purchased products directly from the antitrust violator have a claim for treble damages. The plaintiffs alleged that Becton, the GPOs, and the distributors were in a conspiracy and engaged in various anti-competitive measures, including exclusive-dealing and penalty provisions. Under Brick's conspiracy exception, when a monopolist enters into a conspiracy with its distributors “the first buyer from a conspirator is the right party to sue.”
The district court found the conspiracy rule inapplicable because this case did not involve vertical price-fixing. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The relationship between the buyer and the seller, not the nature of the alleged anticompetitive conduct, governs whether the buyer may sue under the antitrust laws. Remand was required because the Providers have failed adequately to allege the necessary conspiracy.