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Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight Inc.

United States Supreme Court
365 U.S. 127 (1961)


Facts

Beginning in the 1920s, railroads and truckers were competing directly in the market for long-distance transportation of heavy freight. The Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference, an association of presidents from 24 railroads, retained the public relations firm of Carl Byoir & Associates, Inc. (defendants). Together, the defendants mounted a public-relations campaign to undermine the trucking business and promote the interests of railroad operators. The Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association (PMTA) (plaintiff) was a trade organization representing 41 trucking businesses (plaintiffs). The PMTA mounted its own defensive public-relations campaign. The PMTA also sued, alleging that the defendants’ anti-trucking public-relations campaign violated the Sherman Act. Specifically, the PMTA alleged that the defendants’ campaign caused the governor of Pennsylvania to veto the Fair Truck Bill, a piece of legislation supported by the trucking industry. The PMTA sought damages resulting from the governor’s veto, as well as injunctive relief preventing further public attacks. The defendants filed a counterclaim substantially similar to PMTA’s original complaint, attacking the PMTA’s own publicity campaign. The district court held that the defendants’ publicity campaign violated the Sherman Act, because it was misleading and specifically aimed at destroying a competitor. In contrast, the district court found the PMTA campaign reasonable and essentially defensive in character. The district court awarded nominal damages to PMTA and entered a broad injunction against further anti-trucking publicity campaigns. The defendants appealed.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Black, J.)

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