By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
Several dentists have joined together to file suits against leading dental supply distributors in New York and Texas federal courts alleging the companies jointly conspired to keep prices artificially inflated. Five lawsuits have been filed since Wednesday, January 20, 2016, against Patterson Cos. Inc. (Patterson), Henry Schein Inc. (Henry Schein) and Benco Dental Supply Co. (Benco). These companies are alleged to have control over 80 percent of the distribution channel for dental supplies. Among other allegations, lawsuits allege that the established dental supply distributors schemed to intimidate and squelch newer distributors that offer better (lower) prices in order to maintain exclusive control over the market.
Law360 reported that the suits seem to be partially triggered by a recent settlement reached with Benco announced by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, on April 10, 2015. The settlement cost Benco a good amount totaling $300,000, in order to avoid further participation in anticompetitive activities and instituted an antitrust training program for the company.
To read the Plaintiff’s Original Petition filed by the state of Texas against Benco, click here.
To read the full Agreed Final Judgement and Stipulated Injuction Between the State of Texas and Benco Dental Supply, click here.
To read the press release issued by the Texas Attorney General’s office, click here.
Alleged Antitrust Violations and Intimidation Tactics.
The lawsuits alleged that the three dominant distributor companies retained a firm grip on their dominance in the market by engaging in the intimidation of state dental associations. These associations were purportedly threatened by Patterson, Henry Shein and Benco in order to keep their prevalent supremacy in the supply of dental products. The associations were told that if they were to endorse startup distributors they would risk trade-show boycotts. Furthermore, the three established companies threatened to withhold their business if such manufacturers engaged in business with beginning distributors.
As stated by one class action suit filed by Dr. Keith Schwartz, D.M.D., P.A., in Texas federal court on Sunday, January 24, 2016, “At all relevant times Defendants possessed market power–the ability to profitably raise prices significantly above competitive levels while not losing sales […] Defendants abused their dominant collective market power by privately communicating and reaching an agreement to engage in an anticompetitive scheme to foreclose and impair competition, maintain and enhance market power, and artificially inflate prices of dental supplies above competitive levels.” The complaint further stated, “If new, low-cost distributors had not been unlawfully prevented from partnering with state dental associations and/or dental supplies manufacturers, they would have emerged as significant competitors.”
To read the complaint in the Texas federal suit, click here.
The complaints contain similar allegations, and all seek restitution on behalf of dentists suffering damages due to the alleged overcharging for supplies from the three monopolostic distributors since January 2012. More than 135,000 dental practices in the United States are said to be affected by the distributors’ alleged Sherman Act Violations. To read more about the Sherman Act from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), click here. The complaints reported that investigations into one or more of the three distributors have already been initiated by the FTC.
State Regulatory Boards Have Recently Been in Hot Water Over Antitrust Laws As Well.
The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners recently went up against the FTC in a Supreme Court case decided on February 25, 2015. The Supreme Court justices were charged with determining whether professional regulatory boards should be exempt from federal antitrust laws and thus be allowed to eliminate low-cost competitors. Justice Kennedy concluded that immunity was not available because the Board was controlled by “active market participants” and their decision to block services was not “actively supervised” by the state.
To read my prior blog on this case, click here.
To read the full decision by the Supreme Court, click here.
Are you currently being investigated by the FTC for possible antitrust violations?
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Class Action Complaint 11:39 & 45, Jan. 24, 2016.
Overly, Jeff. “Dentists Pull Together to Sue Supply Distributors.” Law360. Portfolio Media Inc.: 25 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
KeyWords: dental class action suit, Sherman Act, antitrust violations defense attorney, Supreme Court antitrust decision, North Carolina dental regulatory board, Board of Dentistry, dentist lawyer, dental distributor companies, dental supplies, Board of Dental Examiners, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), federal atitrust lawyer, administrative law judge (ALJ), American Medical Association, suppression of competition, state board of medicine, state board of dentistry, American Dental Association, Federation of State Medical Boards, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, federal antitrust laws, health defense attorney, health defense lawyer, legal representation for dentists, health law firm, The Health Law Firm
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