MIAMI, March 13, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- The Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday filed a Statement of Interest supporting TIKD, a Florida-based technology start-up, in its federal antitrust lawsuit against The Florida Bar and a private law firm.
In November 2017, TIKD sued The Florida Bar, alleging that the Bar and a private law firm are unlawfully obstructing TIKD's entry into the Florida market, in violation of federal and state antitrust laws. The lawsuit is pending in Miami federal court.
In December, The Florida Bar asked the court to dismiss TIKD's lawsuit, claiming the Bar does not have to comply with federal antitrust laws because it is an "arm of the state" – even though it is funded, controlled and staffed entirely by Florida attorneys, not government officials.
Department of Justice Says The Florida Bar Is Not Immune from Antitrust Laws
In an extraordinary step, lawyers in the DOJ's Antitrust Division have filed a 13-page Statement of Interest on behalf of the United States of America. The filing supports TIKD's position that the Florida Bar cannot claim "state action immunity" from federal antitrust laws without proving that it was following a "'clearly articulated and affirmatively expressed' state policy to displace competition" and that its conduct was "actively supervised by the state itself."
The government's brief argues:
The Florida Bar defendants assert, as one ground for their motion to dismiss, that they are entitled to protection against Sherman Act claims by the state-action doctrine of Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341 (1943) without having to satisfy either the "clear articulation" or "active supervision" requirements of that doctrine. That position is incorrect.
Courts have long recognized that vigorous competition is a crucial factor that fuels innovation. Likewise, technological innovations often have enormous pro-competitive benefits. This reinforcing cycle of competition and innovation generates "dynamic efficiency" in the marketplace, which ultimately allows consumers to reap the rewards of new and exciting products. …
There are few modern technologies that exemplify dynamic efficiency and innovation better than the mobile device revolution and the "app" business culture it enabled. …
To be sure, new and innovative mobile device apps can be disruptive. Business models entrenched for decades have witnessed new competition from mobile platforms that can profoundly change an industry. But almost invariably, the winners from the process of innovation and competition are consumers. …
"This is a big deal," says Pete Kennedy, who represents TIKD in the antitrust lawsuit. "The federal government rarely joins a lawsuit to support one side over the other. I am very pleased to see that the DOJ's Antitrust Division recognizes the significance of this lawsuit and supports TIKD's efforts to increase competition, reduce prices, and improve access to legal services for consumers."
Background on TIKD's position
TIKD's lawsuit relies on a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision, FTC v. North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners, that removed immunity from federal antitrust law from regulatory agencies, like the Florida Bar, that are controlled by members of the profession they regulate, unless the agency's actions are actively supervised and authorized by a true government agency. TIKD alleges the Bar's actions on which the lawsuit is based – issuing a negative staff opinion targeting TIKD's business model and making oral statements to Florida lawyers that TIKD was violating Florida law – were unsupervised and unauthorized by any government agency.
Others in the legal profession are applauding the DOJ's position. "This is exactly the type of anticompetitive conduct that North Carolina Dental case aims to rein in, by subjecting self-interested licensing boards to 'active supervision' by the state. The North Carolina Dental ruling made clear that practicing lawyers can no longer patrol their own markets free from political accountability," said Elizabeth Chambliss, professor of law and director, NMRS Center on Professionalism, University of South Carolina School of Law.
"TIKD is delighted to welcome the Department of Justice's support in its effort to improve consumers' access to affordable legal services," said Tom Spahn, TIKD's President and COO. "The DOJ emphasizes why this case matters: the 'winners from the process of innovation and competition are consumers.' TIKD is good for drivers, good for lawyers, and is operating within the rules defined by law. We are looking forward to resolving this case so we can continue to help consumers save time and money when they get a traffic ticket."
TIKD is a Florida startup providing drivers with a simpler, more cost-effective way to handle traffic tickets directly from their smartphones and computers. TIKD uses technology, big data and the law of large numbers to offer customers a multitude of benefits including convenience, cost savings on the face value of their traffic ticket, affordable access to legal services and the opportunity to minimize the negative financial impact of getting a traffic ticket. TIKD is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice. It is available in select counties across Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Washington DC and California. In other locations, customers can simply pay their traffic ticket fine using BetterPay by TIKD, the first of its kind online payment plan for traffic tickets. More than 8,000 customers have used TIKD since it launched in February 2017. Find out more at TIKD.com and on our fact sheet.