Antitrust class actions can be tough cases for defendants. By their nature, cases against alleged monopolists lend themselves well to David-versus-Goliath rhetoric. But, just as difficult, a number of the fundamental questions in antitrust class actions can only be decided after a “battle of the experts” that costs a great deal of money and may alienate judges who – like many lawyers – went to law school because they didn’t like math. So how can defendants rein in meritless antitrust class actions?
Kelly Bozanic, a fellow at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, has written a working paper that offers one solution. Her main argument, which is not of much help to practitioners, is that the court should “rigorously consider” antitrust standing at the class-certification stage. Of course, a court already must rigorously consider all Rule 23(a) requirements before certifying a class. And it would seem clear that a plaintiff who lacks antitrust standing would be either an atypical or inadequate class representative. At minimum, she will be subject to the “unique defense” of lack of antitrust standing. (In fact, one would expect to see a number of pre-certification summary judgment motions on the issue of antitrust standing.)
But Bozanic’s argument suggests a more interesting point: a wrongful certification of an antitrust class (or even just certification of an overbroad class) could lead to overenforcement, which would chill otherwise competitive conduct. To the extent that is true (and demonstrable), a defendant may argue that the class action against it is not superior because it would chill legitimately competitive conduct. (There’s a related argument also worth making – where a government agency like the Department of Justice Antitrust Division or Federal Trade Commission has investigated possible antitrust violations, certifying a class on top of that enforcement may also be considered overdeterrence.) Of course, to make that argument clearly to the court, the defendant may need the help of one of those high-priced experts.