D.C. Bar Surveys Trends, Enforcement Efforts in Antitrust Landscape

By Jeffery Leon

October 9, 2019

 Antitrust Consumer Law Institute

On September 26 more than 100 attorneys gathered at the D.C. Bar headquarters for the CLE Program’s Antitrust and Consumer Law Institute 2019, featuring experts from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) who explored the latest developments in antitrust and consumer protection practice. 

NBC4 consumer reporter Susan Hogan delivered the keynote address, where she called for closer collaboration between lawyers and reporters whenever possible. “When it comes to reporters and when it comes to attorneys, we really do much that’s alike; it’s about working with people and problem solving,” said Hogan. “You help your clients, [and] in our case, viewers, and try to solve their problem and make it right.” 

Here are a few highlights from the panel discussions and breakout sessions. 

Enforcement Updates
The session “Current Landscape of Consumer Protection Enforcement at the Federal, State, and Individual Levels,” moderated by Anna Haac of Tycko & Zavareei LLP, provided an overview of recent government efforts to protect consumers. 

Daniel Kaufman, deputy director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the agency has been working on privacy and data protection, recently filing high-profile actions against Facebook, YouTube, and Equifax. 

Benjamin Wiseman, director of the Office of Consumer Protection at the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (OAG), shared the D.C. attorney general’s priorities, including the preservation of affordable housing by dealing with unscrupulous landlords, education and outreach efforts, remediation programs to handle customer complaints, and public health issues. 

Cara Petersen, CFPB acting deputy enforcement director, said the bureau has issued a new report on remittance transfers (electronic transfers of money from U.S. senders to recipients in foreign countries) and remittance providers’ compliance with federal rules on exchange rate disclosure. 

The panelists agreed that lawmakers should continue to be proactive to protect consumers, stating that recent rollbacks in policies, particularly those affecting financial institutions, have been dismaying. “It’s important when the federal government acts and acts boldly,” said Haac. 

In the session “Hear From the Antitrust Enforcers: Enforcement Trends and Priorities Under the Current Administration,” Kathleen Konopka, deputy attorney general at OAG, said the District’s antitrust priorities lie in technology, citing its joint investigation with other states into Google and Facebook’s alleged anticompetitive behavior. Anticompetition and price-gouging practices by pharmaceuticals, specifically regarding Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction, is another focus, Konopka said. The District joined 35 states in suing the drugmaker Indivior in September.  

The FTC, on the other hand, is challenging big mergers that could lead to anticompetitive practices, including the recently proposed merger of hydrogen peroxide producers Evonik Industries AG and PeroxyChem Holdings LP, according to Ian Conner, deputy director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. 

Afternoon Breakouts
Afternoon sessions were split up into two tracks focusing on specific topics in either antitrust or consumer law. In “Social Media and Privacy Concerns,” panelists explored the issues of privacy, consent, and preservation of data in different industries, noting the sectoral, or industry-specific, approach of privacy and security laws within the worlds of finance, health care, and child care. 

In the session “Antitrust Enforcement in the Pharmaceutical Industry,” speakers focused on mergers, coercion, and issues arising in business practices in the pharma industry. “This is [where] we need the enforcers to get involved the most,” said Brendan Coffman of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati regarding coercive tactics by pharmaceutical companies.