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U.S. Supreme Court

Blue Shield of Virginia v. McCready, 457 U.S. 465 (1982)

Blue Shield of Virginia v. McCready

No. 81-225

Argued March 24, 1982

Decided June 21, 1982

457 U.S. 465


Respondent employee was provided coverage under a prepaid group health plan purchased by her employer from petitioner Blue Shield of Virginia (Blue Shield). The plan provided reimbursement for part of the cost incurred by subscribers for outpatient treatment for mental and nervous disorders, including psychotherapy. However, Blue Shield's practice was to reimburse subscribers for services provided by psychiatrists, but not by psychologists unless the treatment was supervised by and billed through a physician. Respondent was treated by a clinical psychologist and submitted claims to Blue Shield for the costs of the treatment. After the claims were routinely denied because they had not been billed through a physician, respondent brought a class action in Federal District Court, alleging that Blue Shield and petitioner Neuropsychiatric Society of Virginia, Inc., had engaged in an unlawful conspiracy in violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act to exclude psychologists from receiving compensation under Blue Shield's plans. She further alleged that Blue Shield's failure to reimburse was in furtherance of the conspiracy and had caused injury to her business or property for which she was entitled to treble damages under § 4 of the Clayton Act, which provides for recovery of such damages by "[a]ny person" injured "by reason of anything" prohibited in the antitrust laws. The District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss, holding that respondent had no standing under § 4 to maintain her suit. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: Respondent has standing to maintain the action under § 4 of the Clayton Act. Pp. 457 U. S. 472-485.

(a) The lack of restrictive language in § 4 reflects Congress' expansive remedial purpose of creating a private enforcement mechanism to deter violators and deprive them of the fruits of their illegal actions, and to provide ample compensation to victims of antitrust violations. In the absence of some articulable consideration of statutory policy suggesting a contrary conclusion in a particular factual setting, § 4 is to be applied in accordance with its plain language and its broad remedial and deterrent objectives. Pp. 457 U. S. 472-473.

(b) Permitting respondent to proceed does not offer the slightest possibility of a duplicative exaction from petitioners, Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co., 405 U. S. 251, and Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U. S. 720,

Page 457 U. S. 466

distinguished, since she had paid her psychologist, who thus was not injured by Blue Shield's refusal to reimburse respondent. And whatever the adverse effect of Blue Shield's actions on respondent's employer, who purchased the plan, it is not the employer as purchaser, but its employees as subscribers, who are out of pocket as a consequence of the plan's failure to pay benefits. Pp. 457 U. S. 473-475.

(c) In determining whether a particular injury is too remote from the alleged violation to warrant § 4 standing, consideration is to be given (1) to the physical and economic nexus between the alleged violation and the harm to the plaintiff, and (2), more particularly, to the relationship of the injury alleged with those forms of injury about which Congress was likely to have been concerned in making defendant's conduct unlawful and in providing a private remedy under § 4. Pp. 457 U. S. 476-478.

(d) Respondent's injury is not rendered "remote" merely because the alleged goal of petitioners was to halt encroachment by psychologists into a market that physicians and psychiatrists sought to preserve for themselves. Here, the § 4 remedy cannot reasonably be restricted to those competitors whom petitioners hoped to eliminate from the market. Denying reimbursement to subscribers for the cost of treatment was the very means by which it is alleged that Blue Shield sought to achieve its alleged illegal ends, and respondent's injury was precisely the type of loss that the claimed violations would be likely to cause. Nor is the § 4 remedy unavailable to respondent on the asserted ground that standing should be limited to participants in the restrained market in group health care plans -- that is, to entities, such as respondent's employer, who were purchasers of group health plans. Respondent did not allege a restraint in the market for group health plans, but instead premised her claim on the concerted refusal to reimburse under a plan that would permit reimbursement for psychologists' services. As a consumer of psychotherapy services entitled to financial benefits under the Blue Shield plan, she was within that area of the economy endangered by the breakdown of competitive conditions resulting from Blue Shield's selective refusal to reimburse. Pp. 457 U. S. 478-481.

(e) Section 4 standing is not precluded on the asserted ground that respondent's injury does not reflect the "anticompetitive" effect of the alleged boycott. Her injury was of a type that Congress sought to redress in providing a private remedy for violations of the antitrust laws. Respondent did not yield to Blue Shield's coercive pressure to induce its subscribers into selecting psychiatrists over psychologists for the services they required, but instead bore Blue Shield's sanction in the form of an increase in the net cost of her psychologist's services. In light of the conspiracy here alleged, respondent's injury "flows from that which

Page 457 U. S. 467

makes defendants' acts unlawful," Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U. S. 477, 429 U. S. 489, and falls squarely within the area of congressional concern. Pp. 457 U. S. 481-484.

649 F.2d 228, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,and O'CONNOR, J., joined, post p. 457 U. S. 485. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 457 U. S. 492.

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