Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gun Dealer Failed To State Antitrust Claims Against Village, Trustees Over License Law Changes

This posting was written by Jody Coultas, Contributor to Wolters Kluwer Antitrust Law Daily.

A gun dealer failed to state Sherman Act, Section 1 or Lanham Act commercial disparagement claims against the Village of Norridge, Illinois, stemming from a change in an ordinance that may force the gun dealer to close up shop, according to the federal district court in Chicago (Kole v. Village of Norridge, April 19, 2013, Durkin, T.).

The gun dealer entered into an agreement with the Village in which he agreed to sell guns only over the Internet in return for a license to operate the business in the Village. A revised ordinance terminated gun store licenses altogether and bans gun stores from the Village. Once the agreement and its three-year exemption from the revised ordinance expires, the gun dealer may be forced to close up shop, or at least relocate their business outside the Village.

The gun dealer failed to allege a conspiracy, agreement, or other concerted action to restrain trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, according to the court. The Village and its trustees were one entity. Although a single firm’s restraints may directly affect prices and have the same economic effect as concerted action might have, there can be no liability under Section 1 in the absence of agreement.

Commercial Disparagement

Statements made by a Village trustee did not run afoul of the Lanham Act commercial disparagement section, according to the court. One trustee stated to a local newspaper that "the one current Village weapons dealer licensee has agreed that it will cease doing business in the village no later than April, 30, 2013." The gun dealer argued that the statement was commercial disparagement because it false and harmed business because the statement suggested to potential customers that it would soon go out of business.

The Lanham Act section prohibiting commercial disparagement applies only to statements used in commerce and made in commercial advertising or promotion. The statement also did not support the gun dealer’s Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act claim.

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