Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Loeb Industries, Incorporated v. Sumitomo Corporation

September 20, 2002


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Nos. 99 C 377, 99 C 468, 99 C 621, 99 C 801, 00 C 274, 00 C 528-Barbara B. Crabb, Chief Judge.

Before Cudahy, Rovner, and Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judge

These cases, which we have consolidated for purposes of this opinion, all arise out of an alleged conspiracy in the 1990s to fix the price of copper futures at artificially high levels on the international exchange markets. This market manipulation necessarily and directly inflated the price of the products purchased by the plaintiffs, buyers of copper cathode, copper rod, and scrap copper, who have sued for violations of the Sherman Act, RICO, and various state laws. The district court dismissed the claims of each of the plaintiffs either on the ground that their claims were barred by the indirect purchaser rule of Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720 (1977), or on the ground that their injuries were too remote and speculative under Associated General Contractors of Cal. Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519 (1983) (AGC). We find that Illinois Brick presents no obstacle to any of the plaintiffs' claims but that the claims of the scrap copper dealers are precluded under AGC. On the other hand, we conclude that the purchasers of copper cathode and rod have suffered a direct and independent injury and are the best situated participants in the physical copper market to bring a lawsuit. We therefore affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand in part for further proceedings.


A. The Parties

The production of copper entails a complicated four-step process. First, copper producers extract ore from a copper mine and crush or mill it into a gravel-like substance known as concentrate. Second, smelters separate out the nonferrous metals in the concentrate, producing onemeter square plates of anode, which are approximately 90% copper. Next, the anode is refined electrolytically to create sheets of cathode. Finally, the cathode is fed into a furnace at a mill and melted into rod or wire. In the course of manufacturing cathode and rod, scrap copper is also produced, and it too can be sold into the market. The plaintiffs in these actions are large companies occupying various positions along the copper production chain. The plaintiffs in No. 01-3485, Viacom, Incorporated (a successor to Westinghouse Electric Corporation) and Emerson Electric Company, turn copper cathode into wire for resale to merchants. Each purchased hundreds of millions of pounds of cathode during the relevant time period from integrated producers, who smelt and refine copper from their own mines into cathode.

Ocean View Capital is the plaintiff in Nos. 01-3229 and 01-3230. Until it went out of business in 1996, it was a large Rhode Island-based manufacturer of copper wire and cable. Unlike Viacom and Emerson, Ocean View normally did not purchase cathode; instead, it bought copper that had already been transformed into rod. Some of this rod was manufactured by integrated producers. Ocean View also contracted frequently with semi-fabricators, which own and operate rod mills but do not own mines, concentrators, smelters, or refineries. Instead, semi-fabricators typically purchase cathode from producers or copper traders and fabricate the cathode into rod. On some occasions, Ocean View varied this process by entering into tolling agreements with its semi-fabricators under which it purchased its own cathode from producers or traders and then paid the semi-fabricator to convert it into usable rod.

The plaintiffs in Loeb Industries v. Sumitomo, Nos. 00-3979 and 01-1148, are three scrap metal dealers (to whom we refer as the "Scrap Dealers"). Each purchases only scrap copper; none buys either cathode or rod. The scrap is purchased from a variety of sources, including integrated producers and wire manufacturers, and then repackaged and resold.

B. The Copper Market

Despite the fact that copper is sold in a variety of physical forms, the summary judgment record (viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs) indicates that the pricing of copper is consistent throughout the industry. Like many other commodities, copper is traded on commodities exchanges through warrants and futures contracts. Most copper futures are traded on either the London Metals Exchange (LME) or the Commodities Exchange Division of the New York Mercantile Exchange (known familiarly as the "Comex"). When futures contracts mature, they must either be closed out by an offsetting trade or satisfied by deliveries of the underlying physical goods. If a futures trader is short, she must satisfy her obligation under the futures contract by immediately delivering physical copper cathode to an LME or Comex warehouse; if a trader is long, she may similarly call in physical copper cathode from a warehouse. Because of this, the price of physical copper, including cathode, rod, and scrap copper, is directly linked to the LME and Comex price for copper futures, and dealers in all forms of physical copper quote prices based on rigid formulas related to copper cathode futures.

While sales between six plaintiffs and numerous other copper industry participants are involved, we will illustrate this linkage by discussing only the relationship between one of the plaintiffs, Viacom, and the largest integrated producer, Asarco. Viacom entered into yearly supply contracts with Asarco, copies of which are included in the record. In these contracts, the price Viacom paid Asarco for cathode was made up of two components. First, the base price was set by "the arithmetic average of the COMEX first position settlements for high-grade copper during the calendar month of scheduled shipment." From 1990 to 1996, this price fluctuated from about 75¢/lb to over $1.40/lb. Added to the base price was a "cathode premium" that was set on a monthly or quarterly basis. Asarco's premium fluctuated over the relevant time period from 2.75¢/lb to 3.5¢/lb. The record also indicates that when the base price of copper increased, the premium tended to increase as well.

Viacom bought over half a billion pounds of cathode from Asarco. Asarco manufactured most of this cathode, but some had been purchased for resale from other merchants to make up for production shortfalls. Because records of these purchases were not kept, it is impossible to tell whether any particular pound of cathode sold to Viacom was manufactured by Asarco or merely purchased for resale. The defendants concede, however, that some of the cathode in question was being sold into the market for the first time. While there is some dispute as to the exact numbers, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to Viacom, Asarco sold it 510 million pounds of cathode over the relevant period. During this same time frame, Asarco refined 6.4 billion pounds of cathode and purchased 153 million pounds from third parties. Therefore, even if one assumed that every scrap of Asarco's previously sold cathode was shipped to Viacom (instead of to one of its many other customers), Viacom still purchased 357 million pounds of never-before-purchased cathode. Viacom seeks damages in this suit only for cathode that was sold to it for the first time by its integrated producers.

Asarco also purchased raw materials, such as concentrate and anode, to supplement its own production and keep its smelters and refineries running at full capacity. At least 27 million pounds of the cathode Asarco shipped to Viacom consisted entirely of Asarco raw materials, but the rest may well contain some percentage of previously purchased materials. While raw materials are often priced in reference to Comex prices, only cathode is actually traded on the exchange. Raw material prices also incorporate significant and widely varying discounts based on both the cost of converting the materials into cathode and current refining and smelting capacity. Furthermore, the defendants' experts testified that while the prices of raw materials "may be indirectly affected by the manipulations," a squeeze or corner on cathode could not directly harm the purchasers of pre-cathode raw materials.

The pricing of rod and scrap are similar except that each contains further premiums and discounts off the cathode futures price to reflect a variety of additional costs. Rod pricing contains an additional rod or shaping premium. Scrap copper prices are affected by not only the price of cathode but also freight costs, sizing, sorting, packaging, and purity requirements.

Some of Viacom's suppliers and customers engaged in strategic hedging by purchasing "put" options on the futures markets. A put option holder has the right, but not the obligation, to sell a futures contract at an established "strike" price. If the market price is higher than the strike price (because, for example, the price has been artificially raised), the holder's option will expire and its only cost will be the price of the option. Asarco purchased put options to hedge its output, but it did not hedge against specific transactions, by, for example, purchasing a futures contract for each sale made to Viacom. Its hedging activities were also limited to a fraction of its supply. One of Viacom's suppliers, Kennecott, did not hedge at all, and Viacom itself never hedged its copper purchases.

C. The Conspiracy

Defendant Sumitomo Corporation is a Japanese trading corporation that attempted to fix and maintain the price of copper at artificially high levels from September 1993 to June 1996, all with an eye to enriching itself in its capacity as a seller of physical copper. Through a series of transactions with defendant Global Minerals and Metals Corporation, a copper merchant, it hoarded vast supplies of physical copper for the purpose of restricting supply, and it entered into paper transactions in order to show a false increased demand for the metal. In particular, Sumitomo established sham long-term contracts that purportedly required it to purchase vast quantities of copper from Global on a monthly basis over a period of three years. These sham contracts enabled Sumitomo publicly to justify its accumulation of excessive copper forward positions as a hedge. By June 1995, Sumitomo held approximately ten percent of the entire long position in Comex copper futures.

At that time, Sumitomo began to call in shorts to raise copper demand to inflated levels and to reap the profits from its sales. When these contracts came due, short futures traders were forced to cover their positions by acquiring physical copper at inflated prices, because no new copper was entering the warehouses thanks to Sumitomo's actions. These manipulations caused the price of primary copper to rise more than 50% over a two-year period. In June 1996, the scheme was uncovered, and the trading price for copper dropped by a third almost over-night. The prices of physical copper cathode, rod, and scrap crashed comparably.

In 1998, the United States Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) determined that Sumitomo had violated the Commodity Exchange Act by raising and fixing the price of copper futures and reached a settlement with the company that required it to pay a $150 million fine. That finding has spawned a number of antitrust suits against the defendants, including class action lawsuits on behalf of those who traded copper futures and on behalf of certain purchasers of primary copper.

Sumitomo settled its suit with the futures traders for approximately $134 million. The defendants have also settled a California state court class action brought under various state antitrust laws. Many of the plaintiffs' sellers, including Asarco, participated in the lawsuit and received 0.15 cents per dollar of copper purchased.

II. Proceedings in the District Court

These lawsuits were all consolidated in the Western District of Wisconsin by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. The defendants include not only Sumitomo and Global, but also alleged co-conspirators Credit Lyonnais Rouse, Ltd. (CLR), and J.P. Morgan and Morgan Guaranty Trust (which have since merged to form JPMorgan Chase & Co. and to whom we refer collectively as JPMorgan Chase). The plaintiffs in each case sought damages for the allegedly inflated overcharge in the price of the copper products they had purchased, which was caused by Sumitomo's actions. The Scrap Dealers also sought certification of a class under FED. R. CIV. P. 23 consisting of all metals dealers who purchased any form of physical copper in commercial quantities between 1994 and 1996. The defendants moved to dismiss each of the actions.

The district court first denied the motion to dismiss Ocean View's complaint on May 9, 2000. In re Copper Antitrust Litig., 98 F. Supp. 2d 1039 (W.D. Wis. 2000). The district court found that if the facts alleged in the complaint were true, Ocean View was a proper party to sue under the principles espoused by this court in Sanner v. Board of Trade, 62 F.3d 918 (7th Cir. 1995). The court also denied a motion to dismiss Viacom's complaint on similar grounds. It allowed both cases to proceed, but limited discovery to the issue of standing.

The court next examined the claim of the Scrap Dealers. It denied their motion for class certification, fundamentally because it concluded that the proposed named plaintiffs could not sue, either for their own injuries or for those of others similarly situated, because they fell within the ban on indirect purchaser suits established by Illinois Brick, 431 U.S. at 720. The court decided in addition that the proposed class would be unmanageable, because it would be impossible to ascertain class membership. It then turned to the defendants' 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The court found that the Scrap Dealers' bare-bones allegations were sufficient to state a claim, but that in light of deposition testimony and other facts adduced during litigation of the class certification question, it would nonetheless grant the motion based once again on the perceived Illinois Brick flaw. The court did not, in so ruling, follow the command of Rule 12(b)(6) to convert the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, despite its reliance on matters outside the complaint. The court also dismissed the Scrap Dealers' RICO allegations on the same grounds.

Soon thereafter the district court granted JPMorgan Chase's motion to dismiss all claims that the Scrap Dealers had brought against it on the ground that the plaintiffs were subject to offensive issue preclusion on the pivotal question of their status as indirect purchasers.

After discovery closed in the remaining cases, the defendants filed for summary judgment. On July 23, 2001, the district court granted summary judgment to all of the defendants on Ocean View's claims, finding that Ocean View had no right to sue under the antitrust laws both because it was an indirect purchaser (Illinois Brick) and because its injuries were too remote (AGC).

A month later, the district court granted summary judgment to Global and CLR on Viacom's claim. In contrast to its conclusions in Loeb and Ocean View, the court here rejected the argument that the claim was barred by Illinois Brick. Instead, it applied the factors set forth in AGC and determined that a manipulation of the futures market would have effects too "subtle and complex" to warrant recovery for these cathode purchasers. The district court primarily relied on the following factors:

(1) the huge number of exchange-based pricing formulas available on Comex;

(2) the various premiums and discounts available in the industry;

(3) potential duplication of recovery due to purchases of cathode and raw materials by the integrated producers who sold to Viacom;

(4) potential duplication of recovery due to hedging; and

(5) the complexity of the damages calculation. For similar reasons, the district court also granted summary judgment to the defendants on Viacom's RICO claims. With the federal claims gone, it finally dismissed Viacom's state law claims without prejudice.

III. Use of Rule 12(b)(6)

Before turning to the important antitrust issues underlying all of these appeals, we must deal with an issue of federal civil procedure unique to the appeal of the Scrap Dealers. They argue that the district court committed reversible error by relying on outside materials in evaluating the motion to dismiss without giving them notice and an opportunity to submit additional materials. As they correctly point out, Rule 12(b) requires that if the district court wishes to consider material outside the pleadings in ruling on a motion to dismiss, it must treat the motion as one for summary judgment and provide each party notice and an opportunity to submit affidavits or other additional forms of proof. Fleischfresser v. Directors of School Dist. 200, 15 F.3d 680, 684 (7th Cir. 1994).

This requirement of a reasonable opportunity to respond is mandatory, not discretionary. Edward Gray Corp. v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., 94 F.3d 363, 366 (7th Cir. 1996).

In this case, the district court stated that, considering only the bare pleadings, it would find that the Scrap Dealers had stated a claim. Notwithstanding this conclusion, relying on the materials and affidavits produced for the earlier class certification hearing, it instead granted the defendants' motion dismissing the case. We agree with the Scrap Dealers that this was error, and that the district court should have given them notice of its intentions and an opportunity to respond and produce additional facts going beyond whatever might have been appropriate for class certification purposes.

The question, however, is what the consequence of this error should be. The Scrap Dealers assume that reversal should be automatic, but this position overlooks the command of 28 U.S.C. § 2111, which directs appellate courts to apply the harmless error rule to anything that does not affect the "substantial rights of the parties." We are not aware of any case that holds that the command of Rule 12(b)(6) to convert a motion to dismiss into a summary judgment motion is somehow exempt from § 2111.

The question for us is therefore whether the district court's error affected the Scrap Dealers' substantial rights. To answer that question, we must consider whether the Scrap Dealers have shown us any evidence raising a question of material fact that they would have submitted to the district court had they been given proper notice of the de facto conversion. Burick v. Edward Rose & Sons, 18 F.3d 514, 516 (7th Cir. 1994). If there are no potential disputed material issues of fact, then the court's reliance on materials outside the pleadings is not by itself ground for reversal despite the failure to follow appropriate procedures. Ribando v. United Airlines, Inc., 200 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 1999).

Here, the dispute over whether the Scrap Dealers were proper plaintiffs to sue under the antitrust laws was a hard-fought issue in the class certification hearings, and the Scrap Dealers devoted substantial portions of both their reply brief and supplemental brief to the issue. Furthermore, the district court provided an after-the-fact opportunity to the Scrap Dealers to bring additional materials to its attention in the subsequent litigation against JPMorgan Chase. See Edward Gray Corp., 94 F.3d at 366 (reversing where plaintiff had no opportunity to submit materials that did create a factual dispute).

In light of these facts, we are confident that the Scrap Dealers had a full opportunity to bring all material factual disputes to the court's attention. Therefore, we will review dismissal of all of these actions, as we would any other ruling on summary judgment, drawing all disputed or potentially disputed factual inferences in favor of the plaintiffs and deciding de novo whether the defendants ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.