Businesses throughout the United States must comply with a range of antitrust laws, intended to promote competition in the marketplace and prevent harmful monopolies. Companies large and small must comply with the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act, among others. There are potentially harsh penalties for violations of these laws, but who imposes those penalties? Who are the antitrust enforcers in the United States?
The Federal Government
At the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) are tasked with enforcing antitrust laws across the nation. The agencies aim to complement one another in their efforts, and their authorities overlap at times. When one agency decides to launch an antitrust investigation, it will consult with the other to prevent double efforts. This means that a company under investigation will be dealing with one agency or the other.
Each agency focuses on different markets or industries – for instance, the FTC tends to focus its resources on consumer-oriented industries. These can include healthcare, tech, professional services, pharmaceuticals, energy, food, and similar industries. The DOJ mostly focuses on airlines, banks and financial institutions, railroads, and telecommunications.
When the FTC or DOJ believes there is proof of civil violations of antitrust laws, they can file a claim in federal court to get an injunction to stop the violations, seek relief for impacted consumers when applicable, and impose civil penalties. However, if there is suspicion of criminal antitrust violations, the FTC needs to refer the matter to the DOJ. This is because only DOJ seeks criminal indictments at the federal level.
Attorney general offices of various states can also play a role in the enforcement of antitrust laws. This is common when potential violations concern local consumers or companies. State officials can do either of the following:
- Take action to enforce the individual state’s antitrust laws
- File a federal action on behalf of consumers of the state or the state itself as a purchaser
State authorities can also cooperate with and assist federal authorities with merger investigations. It is common for companies to have to deal with state agencies as well as federal agencies during investigations.
In many cases, antitrust cases are initiated by private companies or consumers that believe certain corporations are violating antitrust laws. These parties can report the matter to the appropriate federal or state authorities, but they can also file their own private lawsuits under the Clayton or Sherman Acts. These suits can seek damages for harm caused by antitrust violations, as well as injunctive relief.
Seek Help from an Antitrust Lawyer Helping Clients Nationwide
If your company faces an antitrust investigation or allegations of violations, you could be dealing with many different parties. It is critical to navigate this situation in the proper manner to prevent losses, liability, penalties, or even criminal charges. The Law Offices of George M Sanders, P.C. is ready to help with all types of antitrust matters, so please contact us right away for assistance.