Recently a federal judge out of Illinois ruled in favor of wireless carriers in a controversial text messaging price-fixing case. Though the evidence appeared to weigh heavily against the wireless carriers in the form of suspect emails, opportunities for collusion, price increases in tandem, and expert testimony, it was not enough to convince the judge of actual collusion between the companies. The summary judgment of the court cited that the plaintiffs’ myriad arguments were insufficient to prove conspiracy – a tactic employed in the past by lawyers in antitrust cases – so the court’s rejection of the case is worth mentioning.
As you may have noticed, the price of a text message doubled between 2005 and 2008. The plaintiffs claimed that these increases were the result of collusion between wireless carriers. In one example, they mentioned an email from one company’s officer to another. This email appeared to have collusive and opportunistic overtones. There were instances of circumstantial evidence as well: well-timed trade group meetings between the companies in addition to the price increases at these companies occurring at the same time were cited as possibilities, with expert witnesses backing up their evidence.
The court official wouldn’t budge, even after the plaintiff’s supposedly significant evidence. The email was disregarded: though the official was an informed employee, there was no direct evidence of collusion present in his correspondence. In addition, there was no evidence that the trade group meetings contained any dialogue about collusion whatsoever. Furthermore, the price increases enacted by the wireless companies were spread out over the course of at least a year, showing that the increases didn’t actually happen at precisely the same time. The plaintiffs merely presented evidence that hinted at the conclusion of conspiracy, but this was not enough to prove that these companies colluded with one another.
There are consequences for the Illinois judge’s summary statement. Since the plaintiffs couldn’t prove their case in the end, this judgment creates a precedent for any other antitrust conspiracy cases. Several instances of circumstantial evidence coupled with expert witnesses proved to be insufficient to prove the defendants’ guilt in the matter – on the contrary, the arguments read as trite inculpation to the judge. In the future, these types of evidence will likely be thrown out of court or ignored by judges, requiring plaintiffs to have hard evidence to prove the existence of collusion in these cases.