In a groundbreaking decision this week, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller in Little Rock, Arkansas, granted the state’s bid to retain jurisdiction over a year-old antitrust lawsuit against pesticide giants Syngenta and Corteva.
According to Reuters, the ruling, which overruled objections from the companies seeking a transfer to North Carolina, highlights the growing influence of a year-old federal law, the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2022.
Judge Miller’s decision, along with a precedent-setting ruling last year in a case challenging Google’s digital ad practices, marks one of the first instances where the 2022 law has been invoked. This legislation explicitly exempts antitrust actions brought by state attorneys general from being transferred into coordinated legal proceedings. The implications are significant, posing new challenges for corporate defendants who may now find themselves fighting related lawsuits in multiple state courts, reported Reuters.
The State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2022 levels the playing field between state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department. Previously, the Justice Department had the authority to retain its antitrust cases in a preferred venue, avoiding multidistrict proceedings. The new law provides states with a “home-field advantage,” allowing them to prosecute cases in their preferred jurisdiction.
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin expressed satisfaction with the ruling, emphasizing that the state’s case against Syngenta and Corteva would remain in Arkansas. The companies, however, had warned Judge Miller that detaching Arkansas from parallel proceedings would lead to unnecessary resource expenditure in defending against similar allegations.
The legal battle over venue echoed Google’s objections to relocating a case brought by Texas and a coalition of states against the tech giant. An appeals court in October considered the implications of the new law and permitted Texas to restart its case in Plano, Texas, rather than the coordinated legal proceeding in Manhattan.
Antitrust scholar Christine Bartholomew, from the University at Buffalo School of Law, noted that the law empowers state attorneys general to act as a crucial line of defense against anticompetitive conduct. Gwendolyn Cooley, Wisconsin state antitrust prosecutor and leader of the National Association of Attorneys General’s multistate antitrust task force, commented that businesses often have to contend with related claims in multiple courts, reflecting the complex reality of doing business across various states.