DETROIT (July 22, 2015) — After scouring the auto supply chain in a five-year crackdown on price-fixing, has the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found something else to do?
It's probably not that simple, but some local legal experts think recent reports of a new Antitrust Division investigation into commercial airlines is another sign its automotive price-fixing prosecution may be nearly over.
Published reports earlier this month revealed the division launched a new investigation about two months ago into “possible unlawful coordination” among domestic passenger airline companies to artificially keep airfares high, including keeping a tight hold on capacity or seat-miles flown each year.
United Airlines Inc. in Chicago; American Airlines Group Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas; Southwest Airlines Co. in Dallas; and Delta Air Lines Inc. in Atlanta have confirmed receiving subpoenas.
A longtime antitrust attorney who practices in the automotive industry, and asked not to be identified, told Crain's Detroit Business magazine that the DOJ's airline investigation and the historical trend in prosecutions is a sign the division is shifting focus. But that's not to say some new discoveries or straggling reviews of single companies couldn't ramp up the automotive prosecution again, before the case is completely over.
“Auto parts is probably on the wane. I don't think you will see many new proceedings, and you might not see any all-new parts segments or conspiracies being alleged,” he said. “There will be some cleanup to do, with companies that did not originally settle, but overall it is winding down.”
If so, that would track with the government's historical pattern.