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Carey & Associates P.A. v. Sheriffs and Counties of Cumberland

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 5, 2018

CAREY & ASSOCIATES, P.A., GEORGE SHAW, both as class representatives, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated Plaintiffs,
v.
SHERIFFS and COUNTIES OF CUMBERLAND, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          Nancy Torresen, United States Chief District Judge

         The Plaintiffs' class action lawsuit centers on allegations of antitrust violations in the manner and fees associated with the service of civil process in Maine. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Defendants have moved to dismiss all the claims in the Plaintiffs' Complaint. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss (ECF No. 6). For the reasons discussed below, I grant the Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         FACTS

         The Complaint generally alleges that the Defendants have a monopoly in the service of civil process and are price-gouging for their services. Complaint (ECF No. 1). The Complaint includes claims for violations of: the Maine Freedom of Access Act (Count I); the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act (Count II); the duty of good faith and fair dealing (Count III); the Maine antitrust statute (Count IV); the Sherman Antitrust Act (restraint of trade) (Count V); the Sherman Antitrust Act (exclusive dealing and other exclusionary agreements) (Count VI); the Sherman Antitrust Act (monopoly) (Count VII); the Maine antitrust statute (Count VIII); the Clayton Antitrust Act (Count IX); the Sherman Antitrust Act (attempted monopolization) (Count X); the Federal Trade Commission Act (Count XI); civil conspiracy (Count XII); unjust enrichment (Count XIII); accounting (Count XIII); the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) (Count XIV); and punitive conduct (Count XV). The Plaintiffs seek damages and declaratory and injunctive relief.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may seek dismissal of “a claim for relief in any pleading” if that party believes that the pleading fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In assessing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court “assume[s] the truth of all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.” Román-Oliveras v. Puerto Rico Elec. Power Auth., 655 F.3d 43, 45 (1st Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted). To overcome the motion, the Plaintiffs must establish that their allegations raise a plausible basis for a fact finder to conclude that the defendant is legally responsible for the claims at issue. Id. at 49.

         ANALYSIS

         I. State Action Immunity

         The Defendants have asserted state action immunity as a basis to dismiss the Plaintiffs' antitrust claims. The Supreme Court, relying on principles of federalism and state sovereignty, has held that the Sherman Act did not apply to anticompetitive restraints imposed by states “as an act of government.” Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341, 352 (1943).[1]

         Parker immunity does not apply to substate entities, such as municipalities and other political subdivisions, but “substate governmental entities do receive immunity from antitrust scrutiny when they act ‘pursuant to state policy to displace competition with regulation or monopoly public service.' ” FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health Sys., Inc., 568 U.S. 216, 225-26 (2013) (quoting Lafayette v. La. Power & Light Co., 435 U.S. 389, 413 (1978)); see also Hallie v. Eau Claire, 471 U.S. 34, 38 (1985). “[I]mmunity will only attach to the activities of local governmental entities if they are undertaken pursuant to a ‘clearly articulated and affirmatively expressed' state policy to displace competition.” Id. at 226 (quoting Cmty. Commc'ns Co., v. City of Boulder, 455 U.S. 40, 52 (1982)).[2] The “clear articulation” test does not require a “state legislature to have stated explicitly that it expected [the governmental entity] to engage in conduct that would have anticompetitive effects.” Hallie, 471 U.S. at 42. To satisfy the “clear articulation” test, the state need only delegate to the county “the express authority to take action that foreseeably will result in anticompetitive effects.” Id. at 43. Mere authorization to act is insufficient; “the substate governmental entity must also show that it has been delegated authority to act or regulate anticompetitively.” Phoebe Putney, 568 U.S. at 228.

         The Supreme Court has acknowledged that it would be “unrealistic” to “require state legislatures to explicitly authorize specific anticompetitive effects before state action immunity could apply” because “ ‘[n]o legislature . . . can be expected to catalog all of the anticipated effects' of a statute delegating authority to a substate governmental entity.” Phoebe Putney, 568 U.S. at 229 (quoting Hallie, 471 U.S. at 43). Instead, the Supreme Court has “approached the clear-articulation inquiry more practically, but without diluting the ultimate requirement that the State must have affirmatively contemplated the displacement of competition such that the challenged anticompetitive effects can be attributed to the ‘state itself.' ” Id. (quoting Parker, 317 U.S. at 352). “[A] state policy to displace federal antitrust law [is] sufficiently expressed where the displacement of competition [is] the inherent, logical, or ordinary result of the exercise of authority delegated by the state legislature.” Id. “In that scenario, the State must have foreseen and implicitly endorsed the anticompetitive effects as consistent with its policy goals.” Id.

         A. The Maine Statutory Scheme

         Under Maine law, “[s]ervice of process shall be as proscribed by rule of court.” 14 M.R.S. § 701. Rule 4(c) of the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the ...


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