Sixth Circuit Uses Some Old Supreme Court Cases To Give Robinson-Patman Act New Life

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In Williams v. Duke Energy International, Inc., No. 10-3604 (6th Cir. June 4, 2012), the Sixth Circuit rejected a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge to a Robinson-Patman claim against Duke Energy for discriminatory pricing of retail electricity. The Robinson-Patman claim was based upon substantial side rebates Duke Energy gave to certain large customers, including GM, which were not given to Ohio retail customers such as the plaintiffs. The Sixth Circuit rejected Duke Energy’s various substantive attacks on the Robinson-Patman claim raised in its Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

The Sixth Circuit opinion is somewhat surprising given the largely negative treatment of the 76-year-old price discrimination law by federal courts in recent years. This 12(b)(6) holding is also in contrast to a recent trend of federal court rulings finding that plaintiffs had not adequately pled a viable Robinson-Patman claim under the Supreme Court’s Twombly-Iqbal line of cases regarding federal court 12(b)(6) pleading standards. Given the Supreme Court’s continued interest in the Robinson-Patman Act—sometimes called the “black sheep” of antitrust —this recent Sixth Circuit case may well be headed to the Supreme Court.

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