Florida Bar wins dismissal of antitrust suit filed by ticket-fighting startup
A federal judge in Miami has tossed an antitrust suit filed by ticket-fighting startup TIKD that alleged the Florida Bar violated antitrust law by investigating TIKD for the unlicensed practice of law.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke granted the bar’s December 2017 motion to dismiss the suit in a brief order on Tuesday. The dismissal motion had argued that the bar is an agency of the state that is immune from the antitrust allegations.
TIKD has an app in which drivers who receive tickets upload them, pay TIKD a fixed price, receive information through the app about a lawyer to defend the tickets, and get a guarantee from TIKD that the tickets will cost no more money.
TIKD had argued that the bar coordinated with a law firm known as the Ticket Clinic to put TIKD out of business, partly by giving the false impression that working with TIKD would violate ethics rules. TIKD settled claims against the Ticket Clinic in September, according to Law360 coverage of Cooke’s decision.
The Florida Bar’s dismissal motion had argued that the bar is immune from antitrust liability under the state action doctrine because it is an arm of the Florida Supreme Court and an agency of the state. The bar is specifically authorized to investigate the unlicensed practice of law, the motion said.
The bar also argued that the court should abstain from ruling under the Younger abstention doctrine that requires courts to refrain from interfering with ongoing state proceedings; TIKD had failed to state elements of a valid claim under the antitrust laws; and TIKD’s suit was an attempt to interfere with the bar’s free speech rights.
The Department of Justice had differed with the bar on immunity, arguing in a statement of interest filed in March that the bar does not have absolute immunity because of the Supreme Court’s decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission.
The high court decision in the case held that a dental board made up primarily of practicing dentists lacked immunity when it sent cease-and-desist letters to nondentists who performed teeth-whitening services.
Florida Bar President Michelle Suskauer said in a statement provided to the ABA Journal that the dismissal is “a just outcome.”
“The Florida Bar is an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court that carries out its authorized duties to protect the public against harm caused by nonlawyers practicing law and by lawyers who violate rules of professional conduct,” Suskauer said. “The Florida Bar takes these responsibilities very seriously, and courts have long recognized that it is improper to sue the Florida Bar for carrying out these important functions as an arm of the supreme court.”
A lawyer for TIKD did not immediately reply to an ABA Journal email.