Reiter v. Sonotone Corporation

RESPONDENT: Sonotone Corporation
LOCATION: Harrah High School

DOCKET NO.: 78-690
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 442 US 330 (1979)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1979

Elliot S. Kaplan - for respondents
John H. Shenefield - for the United States, as amicus curiae
John E. Thomas - for petitioner
Julian R. Wilheim - for respondents
Warren Spannaus - for the States of Alabama et al., amicus curiae

Facts of the case


Media for Reiter v. Sonotone Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 1979 in Reiter v. Sonotone Corporation

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments first this morning in Reiter against Sonotone Corporation.

Mr. Thomas, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

John E. Thomas:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please this Honorable Court.

My name is John Thomas.

I'm a sole practitioner from Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I have seated 10 minutes of my argument time to the federal government, so I have 20 minutes.

I intend to try and to keep possibly five for rebuttal, and what I would like to do is first of all, the issue this morning that we're faced with is, whether or not consumers in the United States may recover overcharges paid for price fixed good as injury occurred under Section 4 of the Clayton Act in their property.

I will quickly outline my argument points if I may please.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Thomas --

John E. Thomas:


Warren E. Burger:

You may find it more convenient to elevate the lectern --

John E. Thomas:

Oh, I'm --

Warren E. Burger:

Just with the crank, each of the other way.

John E. Thomas:

The outline of my argument points this morning would be first of all, I'd like to classify the Eighth Circuit opinion as it may as one of policy contrary to the warnings of this Court in antitrust decisions.

Secondly, we look at the statute language exactly what it does say which I say is in the disjunctive.

Then, I would like to go to the opinions of this Court starting with Mr. Justice Holmes in Chattanooga Foundry through Mr. Justice Marshall and Hawaii versus Standard Oil, and in through each one of the Justices here what they said in Pfizer versus Government of India.

Lastly, I would then like to describe if I may for the Court, what I see the result of the Eighth Circuit's opinion being which is -- severely added complication to the antitrust laws, the destruction of the parens patriae legislation, both for the states and the private opt out provision in that legislation, and finally, the elevation of foreign governments to a preferred position over American citizens.

First of all policy, I think if we look at the Eighth Circuit opinion, it concludes we think it sensible as a matter of policy.

To me, this is indirect conflict with this Court's warning in U.S. v. Cooper Corporation where this Court said it is not for the courts to indulge in the business of policy making in the field of antitrust legislation.

This Court has said many times Saint Paul Fire and Marine case and Blue Shield of Texas, so forth that the starting point in any case involving a statute language is the statute language itself.

Let's look at that, Section 4 of the Clayton Act reads, any person who shall be injured in his business or property by reason of anything forbidden in the antitrust law shall recover, is the business or property --

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Thomas, if you -- why didn't the Congress simply say any person injured rather than injured in his business or property?

John E. Thomas:

Well, Your Honor, that Senator Hoar's Section 7 amendment I guess to Senator Sherman's initial proposal, and at that time, Senator which I believe did basically read that way.

Senator Hoar said there is no change.

It was well understood.

His amendment has change to business or property.

So I would say that it reads the same way.

The dictionary, Black's Law Dictionary of course says or is in the disjunctive and Mr. Justice Rehnquist, I will touch back on that a little more directly, I'm coming to it.

Legal scholars, all of them who have touch on this, who have considered this question, all of them, through Professor Sullivan, Professor Bork, all of them say that it's in the disjunctive business or property and the consumers has standing to recover from money paid for price-fixed goods.

Professor Sullivan says that Mr. Justice Holmes noted it was in the disjunctive.