Alison Frankel

Credit card antitrust judge: Client marketing is ‘professional peril’

By Alison Frankel
April 10, 2014

In 1999, a couple of partners at the firm now known as Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr had a fabulous idea. Businesses were just beginning to recognize the potential advantages of imposing mandatory arbitration provisions and class action waivers on their customers. In early 1998, First USA was the first credit card bank issuer to adopt a mandatory arbitration clause, followed by American Express at the end of the year. Wilmer, which had a roster of credit card clients, came up with a marketing strategy to position itself as an expert on the clauses. In May 1999, Wilmer lawyers invited big credit card issuers to attend a conference on arbitration provisions at its Washington offices “to show these folks that this was something on which we were at the leading edge,” one of the partners later testified.

5th Amendment trumps 1st in prosecution involving unnamed commenters

By Alison Frankel
April 9, 2014

When an anonymous speaker’s First Amendment rights conflict with a criminal defendant’s right to due process under the Fifth Amendment, which constitutional protection prevails?

Can SAC insider trading target Elan force hedge fund to pay legal fees?

By Alison Frankel
April 8, 2014

Elan Pharmaceuticals believes it was victimized twice over by SAC Capital, the notorious hedge fund now called Point72. The first time was when SAC obtained insider information about unsuccessful trials of the Alzheimer’s drug bapineuzumab and dumped $700 million in shares of the Irish drug company and its drug development partner Wyeth. But to add insult to that injury, Elan had to spend a small fortune, about $1.6 million, in legal fees and costs stemming from the government’s investigation of SAC’s insider trading. That is money SAC should have to pay, according to Elan. With the hedge fund due to be sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain of Manhattan, the pharma company’s lawyers at Reed Smith have submitted a letter asking Swain to recognize Elan as a victim of SAC’s crimes and order the hedge fund to pay it $1.6 million in restitution.

Mud-flavored yogurt? Chobani founder, ex-wife wage ugly ownership war

By Alison Frankel
April 7, 2014

For a scant two years, from 1997 to 1999, Hamdi Ulukaya, then a young Turkish immigrant with dreams of a business in Turkish-inspired dairy products, and Ayse Giray, a physician in New York with Turkish roots, were married. Giray believed in and supported Ulukaya’s vision, so much so that even after they were divorced, her family loaned him almost $200,000 in 2002 to keep his inchoate cheese-making business afloat. Ulukaya soon thereafter expanded from feta cheese into Greek yogurt, establishing a company called Chobani with a factory in upstate New York. Last month, Reuters revealed that Chobani is in negotiations to sell a minority stake for $2.5 billion. But Giray and Ulukaya are not jointly celebrating the company’s runaway success. Quite the contrary.

Kosher hot dog case presents a real constitutional pickle

By Alison Frankel
April 4, 2014

Who would have guessed that a consumer class action accusing ConAgra of deceiving consumers in the labeling of its Hebrew National hot dogs and salami would implicate two meaty constitutional issues? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Can banks force clients to litigate, not arbitrate?

By Alison Frankel
April 3, 2014

If you are a customer of a big bank — let’s say a merchant unhappy about the fees you’re being charged to process credit card transactions — good luck trying to bring claims in federal court when you’re subject to an arbitration provision. As you probably recall, in last term’s opinion in American Express v. Italian Colors, the U.S. Supreme Court continued its genuflection at the altar of the Federal Arbitration Act, holding definitively that if you’ve signed an agreement requiring you to arbitrate your claims, you’re stuck with it even if you can’t afford to vindicate your statutory rights via individual arbitration.

Sotheby’s shareholders defend activist investors in suit vs board

By Alison Frankel
April 2, 2014

The heat surrounding so-called activist investors — hedge funds that buy up big chunks of a company’s stock, then leverage their position to mount proxy campaigns or otherwise force boards to change the way the company is managed — could hardly be more intense than it is now. Well, okay, maybe there would be even more controversy if Michael Lewis wrote a book about a genius upstart who defied accepted deal conventions and revolutionized corporate takeover battles. But putting aside the Wall Street tizzy inspired by this week’s publication of Lewis’s new book about high-frequency trading, the deal world’s favorite topic remains activist investors like Carl Icahn, Paul Singer, William Ackman and Dan Loeb.

D.C. judge wants DOJ to justify ‘gag orders’ on Twitter, Yahoo

By Alison Frankel
April 1, 2014

For the last two weeks, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola of Washington, D.C., has been on a one-man campaign to hold the government accountable for secret subpoenas to Internet companies.

New yen Libor ruling is bad omen for rate-rigging antitrust claims

By Alison Frankel
March 31, 2014

One of the most controversial and consequential antitrust rulings of the last few years came last March, when U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of Manhattan tossed class action claims under the Sherman Act against the banks on the London Interbank Offered Rate panel. Buchwald acknowledged that her holding was “incongruous,” considering that some of the bank defendants had already admitted to colluding to manipulate the benchmark Libor rate, which was used to set interest rates for trillions of dollars of securities. But the judge was convinced the class couldn’t show any antitrust injury. The Libor rate-setting process (in which individual banks report the interest rates they’re being charged to borrow, which are then averaged and reported daily) was cooperative, not competitive, she said. So even if the banks conspired to rig Libor, Buchwald held, any harm they caused was not from reduced competition — and since federal and state antitrust laws are intended to target conduct that impedes competition, they don’t apply to Libor manipulation.

First Amendment protects Internet search results: N.Y. judge

By Alison Frankel
March 28, 2014

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of Manhattan grabbed the chance Thursday to set precedent on a question that has received surprisingly little attention in the courts: Does the First Amendment’s protection of free speech extend to the results of Internet searches? Furman was clearly captivated by the issue as an intellectual challenge, delving into the vigorous academic discussion of the First Amendment and Internet search even deeper than the two sides in the case, the Chinese search engine Baidu and the activists who sued the site for supposedly violating their civil rights by blocking their pro-democracy works from appearing in search results. In a supersmart opinion that Furman seems to have written to be widely read, the judge concluded that when search engines exercise editorial judgment – even if that judgment is just algorithms that determine how results will be listed – they are entitled to free speech protection.