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U.S. Supreme Court

Associated Gen. Contractors v. Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519 (1983)

Associated General Contractors v.

California State Council of Carpenters

No. 81-334

Argued October 5, 1982

Decided February 22, 1983

459 U.S. 519


Petitioner multiemployer association and respondents (collectively the Union) are parties to collective bargaining agreements governing the terms and conditions of employment in construction-related industries in California. The Union filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging that petitioner and its members, in violation of the antitrust laws, coerced certain third parties and some of petitioner's members to enter into business relationships with nonunion contractors and subcontractors, and thus adversely affected the trade of certain unionized firms, thereby restraining the Union's business activities. Treble damages were sought under § 4 of the Clayton Act, which authorizes recovery of such damages by "[a]ny person who shall be injured in his business or property by reason of anything forbidden in the antitrust laws." The District Court dismissed the complaint as insufficient to allege a cause of action for treble damages under § 4. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: Based on the allegations of the complaint, the Union was not a person injured by reason of a violation of the antitrust laws within the meaning of § 4 of the Clayton Act. Pp. 459 U. S. 526-546.

(a) Even though coercion allegedly directed by petitioner at third parties in order to restrain the trade of "certain" contractors and subcontractors may have been unlawful, it does not necessarily follow that the Union is a person injured by reason of a violation of the antitrust laws within the meaning of § 4. Pp. 459 U. S. 526-529.

(b) The question whether the Union may recover for the alleged injury cannot be answered by literal reference to § 4's broad language. Instead, as was required in common law damages litigation in 1890 when § 4's predecessor was enacted as § 7 of the Sherman Act, the question requires an evaluation of the Union's harm, the petitioner's alleged wrongdoing, and the relationship between them. Pp. 459 U. S. 529-535.

(c) The Union's allegations of consequential harm resulting from a violation of the antitrust laws, although buttressed by an allegation of intent to harm the Union, are insufficient as a matter of law. Other relevant factors -- the nature of the alleged injury to the Union, which is

Page 459 U. S. 520

neither a consumer nor a competitor in the market in which trade was allegedly restrained, the tenuous and speculative character of the causal relationship between the Union's alleged injury and the alleged restraint, the potential for duplicative recovery or complex apportionment of damages, and the existence of more direct victims of the alleged conspiracy -- weigh heavily against judicial enforcement of the Union's antitrust claim. Pp. 459 U. S. 535-546.

648 F.2d 527, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 459 U. S. 546.

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