260 US 501 Charles Ramsay Co v. Associated Bill Posters

260 U.S. 501

43 S.Ct. 167

67 L.Ed. 368


Nos. 100, 101.

Submitted Nov. 5, 1922.

Decided Jan. 2, 1923.

Messrs. John A. Hartpence and Thomas S. Haight, both of Jersey City, N. J., for plaintiffs in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 501-505 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Richard T. Greene, of New York City, for defendants in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 505-509 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.


These are separate actions for treble damages under the Sherman Act (Comp. St. § 8820 et seq.). The plaintiffs are distinct corporations and demand different sums; otherwise their complaints are identical. Holding no cause of action was stated, the trial court dismissed both complaints upon demurrer, and the Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this action. 271 Fed. 140. It will suffice to state the substance of the pertinent allegations.


Plaintiffs were solicitors of advertising for customers in many States. They prepared, designed, purchased and sold posters and caused them to be displayed by local operators in many cities and towns throughout the United States and Canada. They contracted with their customers and received pay for the entire service of preparing, designing, purchasing and posting the advertisements and were engaged in interstate commerce.


Defendants are a New York corporation and its officers and directors, together with certain favored solicitors.


Advertising by posters has become common, and in most of the larger cities and towns throughout this country and Canada one or more local concerns follow the business of displaying them. Usually advertisers contract with a lithographer directly or through agents (solicitors), such as plaintiffs, for the manufacture or purchase of posters, and with the local billposter for displaying them. Often the lithographer does business in a different state from the advertiser and both operate in different states from those where most of the billboards are located. Some posters are prepared for the exclusive use of an advertiser and some ('stock' or 'sample' ones) for general use. Nearly all are put out by six or eight lithographers.


In 1891 many billposters throughout the United States and Canada, theretofore in competition, entered into a combination and conspiracy to monopolize the business in their respective localities and to dominate and control all trade and commerce in posters within such limits. To that end they organized a voluntary association—afterwards incorporated—whose membership is now very large.


The following were among the means adopted for carrying out the purposes of the combination and conspiracy: (a) Membership has been restricted to one employing billposter in each town or city and members have been prohibited from competing with each other. (b) Funds have been furnished to members for buying out competitors. (c) Rules prevent members accepting certain work form an advertiser who has given business to a nonmember. (d) A schedule of prices has been fixed and members have been prohibited from accepting certain kinds of work from any one except solicitors (twelve in all) arbitrarily selected and licensed, who are forbidden to patronize a nonmember in any place where any member does business. (e) By threats of withdrawal of patronage, manufacturers have been prevented from furnishing posters to independent billposters or to advertisers desiring to do business with independents except upon prohibitive terms.


The association's membership has become large, its powers and influence great, while the number of independent billposters has greatly declined, and it is now practically impossible for an advertiser to utilize posters except by employing members of the association and upon terms arbitrarily fixed. Advertisers are not permitted to purchase 'stock' posters, unless willing to have them displayed upon boards of members, and independent billposters cannot purchase such matter at all.


Plaintiffs had developed a lucrative and profitable business when in July, 1911, the association canceled their licenses and refused to renew the same. Now, as a result of the defendants' unlawful acts, they are disabled from competing in the markets and their business is restricted and unprofitable.

The court below held:


'The business of the solicitors is to send their customers' advertisements to be posted on billboards in various towns and cities throughout the country. Assuming that this business is, as between them and their customers, interstate commerce, we are clear that, after the posters have arrived at destination, the posting of them by the bill posters is a purely local service, not directly affecting, but merely incidental to, interstate commerce. We think this follows from the decision of the Supreme Court in Hopkins v. United States, 171 U. S. 578.'


We cannot accept this view. The alleged combination is nation-wide; members of the association are bound by agreement to pursue a certain course of business designed and probably adequate materially to interfere with the free flow of commerce among the states and with Canada. As a direct result of the defendants' joint acts, plaintiff's interstate and foreign business has been greatly limited or destroyed. Hopkins v. United States, 171 U. S. 578, 19 Sup. Ct. 40, 43 L. Ed. 290, is not applicable. There the holding was that the rules, regulations and practices of the association directly affected local business only. The purpose of the combination here challenged is to destroy competition and secure a monopoly by limiting and restricting commerce in posters to channels dictated by the confederates, to exclude from such trade the undesired, including the plaintiffs, and to enrich the members by demanding noncompetitive prices. The allegations clearly show the result has been as designed, that the statute has been violated and plaintiff's business has suffered.


This court has heretofore laid down and adequately discussed the applicable principles. Montague v. Lowry, 193 U. S. 38, 45, 46, 24 Sup. Ct. 307, 48 L. Ed. 608; Swift & Co. v. United States, 196 U. S. 375, 396, 25 Sup. Ct. 276, 49 L. Ed. 518; Loewe v. Lawlor, 208 U. S. 274, 293, et seq., 28 Sup. Ct. 301, 52 L. Ed. 488, 43 Ann. Cas. 815; Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Co., 221 U. S. 418, 438, 31 Sup. Ct. 492, 55 L. Ed. 797, 34 L. R. A. (N. S.) 874; Eastern States Retail Lumber Dealers' Association v. United States, 234 U. S. 600, 609, 34 Sup. Ct. 951, 58 L. Ed. 1490, L. R. A. 1915A, 788. See also United States v. Associated Bill Posters %(d. c.) 235 f/ed. 540. The fundamental purpose of the Sherman Act was to secure equality of opportunity and to protect the public against evils commonly incident to destruction of competition through monopolies and combinations in restraint of trade. The alleged actions of defendants are directly opposed to this beneficent purpose and are denounced by the statute.


We find no adequate support for the claim that plaintiffs were parties to the combination of which they now complain.