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Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Federal Trade Commission. Atlantic Refining Co.

April 24, 1964

THE GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY
v.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION. THE ATLANTIC REFINING COMPANY V. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION.



Author: Swygert

Before SCHNACKENBERG, CASTLE and SWYGERT, Circuit Judges.

SWYGERT, Circuit Judge:

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and the Atlantic Refining Company request a review of the Federal Trade Commission order based upon a complaint charging a violation of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act*fn1 and which challenged the legality of distribution of tires, batteries, and automobile accessories (TBA) to service stations under a sales commission agreement between petitioners.

Goodyear is an Ohio corporation engaged in the manufacture, sale, and distribution of rubber products, including tires and inner tubes. It is the largest manufacturer of these products in the United States.

Atlantic, a Pennsylvania corporation, is a major producer, refiner, and distributor of gasoline and other petroleum products. It markets its products in seventeen states along the eastern seaboard.

The complaint issued by the Commission alleged that Atlantic produces and sells petroleum in commerce to wholesale distributors, automobile service stations, and others; that the distributors and retailers, ostensibly independent, nevertheless, are under the domination and control of Atlantic; that Goodyear and Atlantic entered into a sales commission contract whereby Atlantic agreed to promote the sale of Goodyear products, that is, tires, batteries, and accessories (TBA), to Atlantic's distributors and service station dealers located in a part of Atlantic's sales territory; that Atlantic had a similar contract with Firestone Tire & Rubber Company for the balance of Atlantic's territory; and that Goodyear had similar contracts with a number of other oil companies which, like Atlantic, dominate and control their distributors and service station dealers. The complaint further alleged that Atlantic is paid a sales commission by Goodyear and Firestone on their products which are sold by Atlantic's distributors and service station dealers. The complaint charged that by the use of the sales commission agreement and the practices of the two companies thereunder, Atlantic and Goodyear have restrained competition in the sale of TBA, and committed unfair acts and practices proscribed by section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The hearing examiner dismissed the complaint against Goodyear, upholding the legality of the sales commission contract, but found that Atlantic had violated section 5 of the act by forcing a substantial number of its dealers to purchase Goodyear TBA. The examiner's order against Atlantic prohibited future actions of coercion.

Both Atlantic and general counsel for the Commission appealed from the examiner's ruling. The Commission sustained the examiner's finding that Atlantic had coerced its dealers to purchase sponsored TBA but held that the coercion was symptomatic of a more fundamental restraint of trade, inherent in the sales commission plan itself. The Commission said that the principal issue raised by the complaint was the legality of the Goodyear-Atlantic contract. It noted, however, that Atlantic had a similar agreement with Firestone and that Goodyear had like agreements with a number of oil companies other than Atlantic.

The Commission determined that the sales commission method of marketing TBA is "a classic example of the use of economic power in one market (here, gasoline distribution) to destroy competition in another market (TBA distribution)." It found that Atlantic, which sells gasoline, has used its economic power over its dealers to cause them to carry substantial amounts of a different product, TBA; also, that the effects of the sales commission system are anticompetitive at the manufacturing, wholesale, and retail levels. It found that Goodyear's manufacturing competitors have been substantially precluded from selling TBA to the Atlantic service stations assigned to Goodyear; that wholesalers of TBA have also been substantially precluded from selling to Atlantic's service stations; that Goodyear wholesalers who are not supply points have been similarly restricted; and that Atlantic service station dealers have been restrained in marketing nonsponsored TBA. Finally, the Commission found that the public has suffered because lack of competition among the service stations' suppliers of TBA has precluded the possibility of price reductions to the consumer.

The Commission based these conclusions on the components of the sales commission system which include advance notice to Goodyear and Firestone of the selection of new dealers by Atlantic, training schools for Atlantic dealers in which Goodyear and Firestone TBA are used in demonstrations, sales solicitation by Atlantic salesmen of sponsored TBA from dealers, double teaming, use of a reporting technique whereby the tire company reports to Atlantic the TBA purchases of each dealer, Atlantic's recommendation to each dealer of a minimum Goodyear or Firestone TBA inventory, and Atlantic's assistance in advertising, and providing credit card facilities for the sale of sponsored TBA.

Upon finding the sales commission system an unfair method of competition, the Commission revised and expanded the examiner's order. The order of the Commission not only prohibits Atlantic from coercing its distributors and dealers to purchase a particular brand of TBA but also forbids its participation in any sales commission arrangement for the distribution of TBA. Further, the order prohibits Goodyear's participation in any sales commission arrangement with Atlantic or any other oil company for marketing its TBA.

Upon a consideration of the record as a whole, we conclude there was substantial evidence to support the Commission's ultimate findings and conclusions and that its order should be affirmed in all respects.

To narrate all relevant facts would extend our discussion unduly; we undertake a summary.

Atlantic's Operations .

Atlantic has three major kinds of customers: wholesale distributors, retailers, and commercial accounts; the last class was not involved in the administrative proceeding.

Wholesale distributors maintain their own storage facilities and resell Atlantic's products under its brand names to their retail customers, including service stations. In 1956 there were 236 Atlantic distributors selling to 2,897 service stations.

Retail dealers who purchase directly from Atlantic are of two classes: lessee-dealers, that is, service station operators who do not own their stations; and contract dealers, station operators who own their stations or lease from parties other than Atlantic, or operate garages, grocery stores, and similar establishments. The company had 5,537 direct retail dealers in 1956. Lessee-dealers accounted for approximately thirty-nine per cent of Atlantic's total gasoline sales in 1955 and the contract dealers eighteen per cent.

The usual lease between Atlantic and its lessee-dealers provides for a one year term with automatic renewal from year to year unless written notice is given before the expiration of any term. When the lease is executed the dealer is required to sign an "Eleven Point Lease Letter" which prescribes operational standards for the service station. These include housekeeping, use and upkeep, display, illumination, personnel, hours of operation, services, adequate inventory, sales promotion, prices, and accounting. The standards are enforced by Atlantic through the surveillance of its sales personnel and so-called "phantom customer inspectors."

The Commission found that the eleven point letter is an integral part of the lease; that Atlantic at its option may terminate the lease in the event of its breach; and further, if a dealer violates any of the requirements of the letter, he is warned that the lease will be cancelled unless the non-compliance is remedied within fifteen days.

Atlantic adopted a policy in 1953 providing that any lessee-dealer who establishes a two year record of satisfactory operation is eligible for a three year lease. Moreover, Atlantic after 1953 no longer required its dealers to purchase Atlantic products except lubricants. The record shows, however, Atlantic's dealers handle its products exclusively.

In 1956 fifty per cent of the 3,044 Atlantic contract dealers operated service stations; the others operated grocery stores, garages, and similar outlets (outlets other than service stations ordinarily do not handle TBA).

Although contract dealers do not lease their stations from Atlantic, they usually enter into two kinds of agreements with the company, one providing for loans of station equipment and the other for the purchase of a minimum amount of gasoline. The loan agreements for equipment provide that Atlantic will install but the dealer must maintain the equipment (gasoline pumps, storage tanks, signs, compressors, etc.). The agreements ordinarily are for a one year term but may be terminated by notice of either party at the end of the original or any subsequent term. Atlantic may repossess its equipment upon termination of the contract; however, if the agreement is cancelled because of a breach by the dealer, Atlantic requires him to pay both the cost of installation and removal of the equipment or Atlantic has the option to leave the equipment and require him to pay for it.

Atlantic makes the same type of contract with its wholesale distributors for the purchase of gasoline as required of its contract dealers. The company, moreover, reserves the right to change the service stations' ...


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