By Linda O’Brien, J.D., LL.M.
In an action by a chiropractor against the state medical board, the federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia has granted summary judgment to the board on claims that it entered into a horizontal agreement to allocate relevant service markets to doctors and to exclude chiropractors from competing in those markets (Petri v. Virginia Board of Medicine, December 1, 2014, Hilton, C.).
Yvoune Petri has been a licensed chiropractor in Virginia since 2006. In February 2013, the Virginia Board of Medicine, which regulates all forms of medicine in the state, conducted a formal hearing and determined that Petri violated various sections of the Virginia Code regulating the practice of medicine. Specifically, Petri was found to have (1) advertised and promoted her services in a false and misleading manner by holding herself out as a nutritionist and registered dietician without meeting the necessary criteria under state law and (2) acted beyond the scope of chiropractic. Her license was temporarily suspended and a fine imposed.
Petri filed suit against the Board and its members for allegedly entering into an agreement to allocate the relevant service market to doctors and to exclude chiropractors in violation of the Sherman Act. In October 2014, the defendants’ motion in limine to exclude expert witnesses presented by Petri was granted. Subsequently, the defendants moved for summary judgment.
The court found that Petri failed to show anticompetitive effects on the relevant market from the alleged restraint. Petri’s argument that her individual injury constituted harm to the overall competition was rejected. In the court’s view, the law was clear that the elimination of a single competitor, standing alone, did not prove the anticompetitive effect necessary to show antitrust injury.
Petri also failed to show that the procompetitive benefits of the Board’s actions were outweighed by anticompetitive effects, according to the court. The Board’s authority to regulate the practice of medicine and sanction practitioners when necessary was market benefit to consumers as well as for many practitioners who stay within the scope of practice created by state law. Without the Board, consumers would fall prey to untrained and dangerous practitioners, while well-trained and qualified professionals would lose business and see their profession demeaned.
Finally, Petri failed to establish that the action by the Board and its members to sanction her constituted a conscious commitment to a common scheme by competitors to restrain trade. The Board members each acted individually in their decision to vote in favor of sanctions on Petri. Although they had the opportunity to confer before voting, the mere opportunity to conspire among antitrust defendants is insufficient evidence from which to infer an anticompetitive conspiracy, the court concluded.
The case is No. 1:13-cv-01486.
Attorneys: Vincent Mark Amberly (Amberly Law) for Yvoune Kara Petri. Erin Laura Barrett, Office of the Attorney General, for Virginia Board of Medicine.
Companies: Virginia Board of Medicine
MainStory: TopStory Antitrust VirginiaNews
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