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U.S. Supreme Court

Aspen Skiing v. Aspen Highlands Skiing, 472 U.S. 585 (1985)

Aspen Skiing Co. v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp.

No. 84-510

Argued March 27, 1985

Decided June 19, 1985

472 U.S. 585


Respondent, which owns one of the four major mountain facilities for downhill skiing at Aspen, Colo., filed a treble-damages action in Federal District Court in 1979 against petitioner, which owns the other three major facilities, alleging that petitioner had monopolized the market for downhill skiing services at Aspen in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Act. The evidence showed that in earlier years, when there were only three major facilities operated by three independent companies (including both petitioner and respondent), each competitor offered both its own tickets for daily use of its mountain and an interchangeable 6-day all-Aspen ticket, which provided convenience to skiers who visited the resort for weekly periods but preferred to remain flexible about what mountain they might ski each day. Petitioner, upon acquiring its second of the three original facilities and upon opening the fourth, also offered, during most of the ski seasons, a weekly multiarea ticket covering only its mountains, but eventually the all-Aspen ticket outsold petitioner's own multiarea ticket. Over the years, the method for allocation of revenues from the all-Aspen ticket to the competitors developed into a system based on random-sample surveys to determine the number of skiers who used each mountain. However, for the 1977-1978 ski season, respondent, in order to secure petitioner's agreement to continue to sell all-Aspen tickets, was required to accept a fixed percentage of the ticket's revenues. When respondent refused to accept a lower percentage -- considerably below its historical average based on usage -- for the next season, petitioner discontinued its sale of the all-Aspen ticket; instead sold 6-day tickets featuring only its own mountains; and took additional actions that made it extremely difficult for respondent to market its own multiarea package to replace the joint offering. Respondent's share of the market declined steadily thereafter. The jury returned a verdict against petitioner, fixing respondent's actual damages, and the court entered a judgment for treble damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting petitioner's contention that there cannot be a requirement of cooperation between competitors, even when one possesses monopoly powers.

Page 472 U. S. 586


1. Although even a firm with monopoly power has no general duty to engage in a joint marketing program with a competitor (and the jury was so instructed here), the absence of an unqualified duty to cooperate does not mean that every time a firm declines to participate in a particular cooperative venture, that decision may not have evidentiary significance, or that it may not give rise to liability in certain circumstances. Lorain Journal Co. v. United States, 342 U. S. 143. The question of intent is relevant to the offense of monopolization in determining whether the challenged conduct is fairly characterized as "exclusionary," "anticompetitive," or "predatory." In this case, the monopolist did not merely reject a novel offer to participate in a cooperative venture that had been proposed by a competitor, but instead elected to make an important change in a pattern of distribution of all-Aspen tickets that had originated in a competitive market and had persisted for several years. It must be assumed that the jury, as instructed by the trial court, drew a distinction

"between practices which tend to exclude or restrict competition, on the one hand, and the success of a business which reflects only a superior product, a well-run business, or luck, on the other,"

and that the jury concluded that there were no "valid business reasons" for petitioner's refusal to deal with respondent. Pp. 472 U. S. 600-605.

2. The evidence in the record, construed most favorably in support of respondent's position, is adequate to support the verdict under the instructions given. In determining whether petitioner's conduct may properly be characterized as exclusionary, it is appropriate to examine the effect of the challenged pattern of conduct on consumers, on respondent, and on petitioner itself. 472 U. S. 605-611.

(a) The evidence showed that, over the years, skiers developed a strong demand for the all-Aspen ticket, and that they were adversely affected by its elimination. 472 U. S. 605-607.

(b) The adverse impact of petitioner's pattern of conduct on respondent was established by evidence showing the extent of respondent's pecuniary injury, its unsuccessful attempt to protect itself from the loss of its share of the patrons of the all-Aspen ticket, and the steady decline of its share of the relevant market after the ticket was terminated. 472 U. S. 607-608.

(c) The evidence relating to petitioner itself did not persuade the jury that its conduct was justified by any normal business purpose, but instead showed that petitioner sought to reduce competition in the market over the long run by harming its smaller competitor. That conclusion is strongly supported by petitioner's failure to offer any efficiency justification whatever for its pattern of conduct. 472 U. S. 608-611.

738 F.2d 1509, affirmed.

Page 472 U. S. 587

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except WHITE, J., who took no part in the decision of the case.

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