In a recent seventh Circuit Opinion, the Court dismissed Mercatus Group, LLC’s (“Mercatus”) antitrust claims against Lake Forest Hospital. Mercatus was in the process of developing a physicians’’ center in Lake Bluff, Illinois. The plan was to build a large center from which physicians could render medical services. The plot of land that was to be the site of the Physician’s center was occupied at that time by an automobile dealership.
Mercatus along with ENH engaged in efforts to procure the land, acquire the zoning permits, and interact with physicians to get them to use their facility. Lake Forest Hospital engaged in a vigorous marketing, political, and lobbying effort to prevent Mercatus from locating their facility in Lake Bluff. Lake Forest Hospital was successful in blocking Mercatus and ENH’s efforts to locate in Lake Bluff.
Mercatus brought an antitrust claim and alleged that Lake Forest Hospital made some misrepresentations in its campaigns and political efforts. The Seventh Circuit held that the antitrust claims were barred by the First Amendment’s right to petition the government to redress for grievances. The allegations relating to misrepresentations were insufficient as a matter of law to give rise to antitrust liability. The Seventh Circuit focused on the political nature of Lake Forest Hospital’s activities and determined that such political activity was protected under the First Amendment.
It is not clear how this case may have turned out, if there were some teeth behind the allegations of misrepresentations and alleged efforts to contact physicians to prevent them from relocating to Lake Bluff. Nevertheless, as a business owner and operator, you may want to consider how the First Amendment can help protect against antitrust claims asserted by a competitor or prospective competitor.