In a decision of great interest to Washington's Public Hospital Districts, Public Utility Districts, Port Districts, and many other state and local government entities, the Supreme Court this week issued an opinion clarifying and narrowing antitrust immunity for state and local governments. As a result of the decision, public agencies will need to exercise great care when taking actions that could restrict competition.
Under the "state-action immunity doctrine," the courts have long recognized that local government entities are immune from federal antitrust liability if they act under state law intended to restrict competition. But, for immunity to apply, a local government entity must act under a "clearly articulated and affirmatively expressed state policy to displace competition." This week's Supreme Court decision, FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health System, Inc., clarifies how this "clearly articulated and affirmatively expressed" test should be applied. The Court concludes that, while state legislatures need not explicitly state that they intend to restrict competition, limitation of competition must be the natural and logical consequence of the policy adopted by the state.