Recent Merger and Acquisition Activity at DOJ and FTC
In the past month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of
Justice (DOJ) have blocked or required substantial divestitures in a number of
noteworthy transactions, perhaps reflecting the stepped-up merger enforcement
both agencies have identified as a priority.
- Bemis/Alcan – On Feb. 25, 2010, the DOJ approved Bemis Co. Inc.’s $1.2
billion acquisition of Alcan Packaging Food Americas, but required Alcan to
divest certain assets, including its flexible packaging business, which
generates approximately $100 million in annual sales. Without the
divestiture, the DOJ claimed the acquisition would “have lessened the
vigorous competition that currently exists among suppliers of flexible
packaging for natural cheese and fresh meat.”
- Election Systems & Software Inc. – On March 8, 2010, the DOJ and nine
state attorneys general announced they had settled a lawsuit challenging the
acquisition of Premier Election Solutions, Inc., requiring substantial
divestitures of virtually all of Premier’s assets and intellectual property.
This settlement is particularly noteworthy because the DOJ did not begin its
investigation of this transaction until after the companies had combined
assets and dismantled many of Premiere’s divisions, because the size of the
transaction fell well below the Hart-Scott-Rodino reporting threshold.
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan – Also on March 8, 2010, the DOJ
announced that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan had abandoned its plans to
purchase Physicians Health Plan of Mid-Michigan, after the DOJ informed the
parties it would file an antitrust suit to block the acquisition. According
to the DOJ, the acquisition would have given Blue Cross Blue Shield of
Michigan a 90 percent market share in the Lansing, Mich., area. The
companies stated they initially believed the deal would go through without
- Polypore International Inc. – Again on March 8, 2010, an FTC
administrative law judge found that Polypore International Inc.’s
consummated acquisition of a rival battery separator manufacturer, Microporous L.P., was anticompetitive, and violated federal law. In his
decision, the administrative law judge ordered Polypore to divest
Microporous to an FTC-approved buyer. The FTC had filed an administrative
complaint challenging the deal in September 2008, and a one-month trial was
held in May 2009. Polypore has announced it intends to appeal the
administrative law judge’s decision.
Criminal Fines Issued in Packaged-Ice Price-Fixing Conspiracy
In February and March 2010, two more companies were sentenced in connection
with their participation in a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition
by allocating packaged-ice customers and territories in the Detroit metropolitan
area and southeastern Michigan. Arctic Glacier International Inc. and Home City
Ice Company each pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy to restrain
trade, and each was fined $9 million.
Each company is still facing putative class actions by direct and indirect
purchasers, as well as actions by several states’ attorneys general.
The European Commission makes regular use of its “commitments” procedure
under Article 9 of EC Regulation 1/2003 in order to settle competition law
investigations. When adopted, the procedure was not expected to be used
regularly. However, its flexibility, relative speed, and the fact that no
infringement decision is made (upon which third-party actions can be based) or
fine imposed has resulted in it becoming a key tool for the Commission outside
the cartel sphere. The most recent case involving Microsoft (concerning alleged
tying of Internet Explorer to Windows) was settled using commitments.
The Commission is currently market testing proposed commitments received from
Italian natural gas supplier ENI and members of the Oneworld airline alliance.
The ENI case was launched in the wake of the Commission’s energy sector inquiry,
following concerns that ENI’s behavior was blocking competitors’ access to the
transport infrastructure needed to import gas into Italy to the detriment of
The Commission was concerned that, in doing so, ENI could be in breach of EU
rules regarding abuse of a dominant market position. ENI has proposed structural
remedies that effectively mean the full divestiture of all of ENI’s shares in
all gas transport pipelines in relation to which the Commission has competition
In April 2009, the Commission opened proceedings in relation to its concerns
under Article 101 TFEU (the EU prohibition on anti-competitive agreements) about
agreements between British Airways, American Airlines, and Iberia. Pursuant to
these agreements, the parties intend to jointly manage schedules, capacity, and
pricing, as well as share revenues on transatlantic routes between North America
and Europe. They have now offered commitments in order to alleviate the
In particular, they have offered to make available landing and take-off slots
at London Heathrow or London Gatwick airports on routes to Boston, New York,
Dallas and Miami. There are also related proposals concerning operating
authorizations at New York’s JFK airport, access to the frequent flyer programs
on the relevant routes, and arrangements enabling competitors to offer tickets
on the parties’ flights and facilitate access to connecting traffic.