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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Justices Dismiss Price-Fixing Suit By Gas Stations

By MARK H. ANDERSON
March 1, 2006; Page A12
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided that two large oil companies can set uniform prices in a joint refining agreement without violating federal antitrust laws.
The decision, which deals with a 1998 joint gasoline-refining venture between Shell Oil Co. and Texaco Inc., is a blow to a class of gas-station owners that sued the companies, alleging the venture illegally fixed prices on wholesale gasoline. The decision overturned a ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“The pricing policy challenged here amounts to little more than a price setting by a single entity,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote. The 8-0 opinion didn't include Justice Samuel Alito, who joined the Supreme Court last week. An opposite ruling by the high court would have had major antitrust-law implications.
The Texaco-Shell deal combined their refining and marketing operations after the companies cleared the plans with the Federal Trade Commission and other U.S. regulators. Later, a group of gas-station operators sued the companies for price fixing. A federal trial judge initially threw out the suit, but it was revived by the Ninth Circuit. Texaco is a unit of Chevron Corp., of San Ramon, Calif. Shell is a unit of Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
Texaco Inc. v. Dagher et al.
The justices also unanimously shut the door on the ability of abortion clinics to use federal racketeering and extortion laws to sue antiabortion protesters.
The 8-0 ruling was the second decision issued by the Supreme Court on the case, which began as a class action filed by the National Organization for Women against antiabortion groups that tried to restrict access to abortion clinics.
The Supreme Court's decision turned on its interpretation of a federal extortion law known as the Hobbs Act, which the justices said is limited to physical violence that occurs during robbery or extortion. The Supreme Court decision reverses the Seventh Circuit in Chicago.
The original suit was filed 20 years ago by several abortion clinics and NOW, which sued the antiabortion groups Operation Rescue and Pro-Life Action League.
Scheidler v. NOW
Write to Mark H. Anderson at [email protected]

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