Law firm's exclusive bus-advertising contracts don't appear to violate antitrust law, judge rules
A federal judge has tossed antitrust claims against a Pennsylvania law firm that had exclusive contracts for law-firm advertising on buses, on a popular radio station at rush hour, and at the Wells Fargo Center sports arena.
U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe ruled on Friday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The suit was filed by Larry Pitt & Associates against competitor law firm Lundy Law. Both firms seek personal-injury, disability and workers-comp clients.
Pitt says bus advertising is so effective that Lundy paid $435,000 to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority for a contract that bars other law firms from advertising on the exterior of its Philadelphia-area buses in 2012, according to the Inquirer account. The amount is almost 10 times the rate Pitt paid when it advertised on buses between 2008 and 2011. Since Lundy got exclusive contract rights, Pitt’s referrals plunged, the suit says.
Pitt’s suit also targets Lundy’s exclusive contract with the Berks Area Regional Transportation Authority, which serves riders around Reading.
But Lundy does not control all advertising in the Philadelphia region, Rufe said in her opinion (PDF), and it’s not clear from Pitt’s complaint that it will be barred from bidding for those same exclusive rights when Lundy’s contracts expire.
“While Pitt alleges that it has received fewer workers’ compensation cases since losing the opportunity to advertise on the exterior of SEPTA buses, this allegation only demonstrates an injury to Pitt, and not to consumer choice or to competition for clients, Rufe wrote. “As antitrust laws protect competition, not competitors, these allegations are insufficient.”
Rufe said Pitt could file an amended complaint if there are facts demonstrating a conspiracy among all the sellers of advertising, rather than alleged collusion between Lundy Law and each seller of advertising.
Rufe did allow a false-advertising claim that alleges Lundy’s ads stated the firm handled disability and workers comp claims when those cases are actually referred to other firms.
Carl Hittinger, who represented the Pitt firm, told the Inquirer he would file an amended complaint that would include “substantial facts that have been uncovered through further investigation as well as right-to-know requests.”