In re Petroleum Products Antitrust Litigation

906 F.2d 432 (1988)

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In re Petroleum Products Antitrust Litigation

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
906 F.2d 432 (1988)

  • Written by Heather Whittemore, JD

Facts

A group of oil companies (collectively, the oil companies) (defendant) produced and refined oil into gasoline and sold the gasoline to independent dealers through distributors. The oil companies offered discounts to dealers, and when gasoline prices fluctuated, the cause of the fluctuation was usually changes to dealer discounts. Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington (collectively, the states) (plaintiffs) filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging that the oil companies conspired to raise gasoline prices by coordinating dealer discounts, sharing pricing information, and fixing prices in violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act. To support their price-fixing claims, the states presented several types of evidence: oil-pricing patterns that showed increases and decreases in gasoline prices over time, press releases in which the oil companies announced their intentions to withdraw dealer discounts and increase prices, public postings of prices and dealer discounts, and evidence of contacts between the oil companies. The states argued that the oil companies made their press releases and public postings of prices to inform their competitors of price changes so the competitors could follow suit. The states also argued that the oil companies were in contact with one another through these actions. The oil companies filed motions for summary judgment. To refute the evidence presented by the states, the oil companies argued that the gasoline-pricing patterns presented by the states showed that oil pricing was cyclical and that oil prices dropped eventually after being raised. The oil companies explained that they used the press releases to inform their competitors of their gasoline price changes in hopes that the competitors would similarly change their prices. The oil companies also explained that they publicly posted their pricing information to be open and transparent to customers. The district court granted the motions for summary judgment. The states appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Nelson, J.)

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