United States v. Armour & Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Armour & Company
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Firth Circuit

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 402 US 673 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 19, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Armour & Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 1971 in United States v. Armour & Company

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in number 759, United States against Armour.

Mr. Springer, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

James Van R. Springer:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case which comes here on direct appeal from the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is a reincarnation of the case, United States against Armour and General Host Corporation that was here a year ago, but became moot before the Court, but decided.

Like that case, it raises a question as to the impact of the structural prohibitions of the great Meat Packers Antitrust Decree of 1920 to which Armour, one of the appellees here nominally, is one of the four meat packer parties.

The Decree prohibits Armour from having any involvement in certain forbidden food lines other than meat packing, and the question in both of these cases essentially the same has been whether there is a remedy under that Decree for a take over of Armour by a company that is itself in the forbidden food line, as there would be incontestably a remedy if Armour were to acquire such a forbidden food company.

The General Host case began in the beginning of 1969 when General Host acquired control of Armour.

Since General Host was in the forbidden food lines, the Government took the position and that the Decree was offended by General Host's takeover of Armour, just as it would have been by the converse situation.

So, we filed a petition then against General Host in the beginning of 1969 in the District Court which has had continuing jurisdiction over the Meat Packers Decree for the last 10 or 12 years, by a transfer from the District of Columbia where the Decree was initially entered.

At that time, we asked the court to enter an order supplemental to the Decree against General Host which would make General Host a party to the Decree and then prohibit its acquisition of Armour.

But Judge Hoffman, the district judge, who is also the district judge in the present, declined to entertain the petition, saying that the Decree was aimed only at affirmative action by Armour or another named defendant, and that therefore, the relationship between Armour and General Host was perfectly consistent with the Decree as long is it was created by somebody other than Armour, and as long as Armour avoided actively dealing in the forbidden food lines.

The Government appealed the case here and it was argued in March of 1970.

In mid May last year before this Court could reach a decision in the General Host case, General Host sold its controlling stock interest in Armour to Greyhound Corporation, which is the appellee in the present case.

Over our objection, this Court then held that the case had become moot and ordered that the Government’s petition against General Host be dismissed.

The papers that were filed in connection with that mootness issue are set forth in the separate supplemental appendix in this case and we’ve recited some of the related facts in our brief and I will not repeat them again here.

Following that action by this Court last June, the Government promptly filed the present petition against Greyhound, since in our view of Greyhound like General Host has food interests that the Meat Packers Decree forbids Armour to have.

Judge Hoffman promptly dismissed this petition as well at the end of June after hearing argument by the Government and off the record by counsel for Greyhound.

As in the General Host case, Judge Hoffman again held that he was powerless to issue any order against Greyhound unless and until Greyhound actually caused Armour to deal in forbidden food lines.

And so, he held that the Government’s petition failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Again, we appealed, this Court noted probable jurisdiction and here we are again.

The question in this case as in the General Host case is whether an Antitrust Decree can affectively keep a party to that Decree from becoming involved in another line of business where its involvement would, in the view of the initial Decree, create a recipe competition.

Judge Hoffman held in each case that all the court can do in entering an Antitrust Decree is to tell the party not to do anything itself that would have the effect of involving it in the forbidden business.

And incidentally to that, can punish anyone who actively aids or abets that party in doing what the Decree tells it not to do.

We say on the other hand that a structural Antitrust Decree can be somewhat more than that, but a court can affectively decree an absolute prophylactic separation between a particular named party’s business and another line of business.

And we say this Meat Packers Decree has done that, and that the court having for jurisdiction over the decree can enter a supplemental order fashioning a remedy against an outsider like Greyhound which comes in to destroy the structural separation that we say is the heart of the decree.

Just as in the school desegregation cases that we have referred to in our brief, we think an anti-trust court has the power to issue a narrow order directed at a particular third party involved in a particular situation after a hearing that will prohibit that party’s interference with the effectuation of the specific purpose at the heart of the Decree in question.

With that introduction, let me turn now to a description of the corporate relationship that Greyhound has created between Armour and Greyhound’s forbidden food operations, and then point once again as I did last year to the explicit language of the Decree that we think is designed specifically to prohibit such relationship from coming into existence.

Some of these details have developed since the hearing -- the argument, as there really was, in the District Court last June, though there has not been any drastic change that materially affects our theory of the case.

These more recent occurrences are set forth either in our brief or in Greyhound’s brief or in some instances in Greyhound’s annual report for 1970 which has just recently come out.

We think, they’re undisputed and it will be helpful to the Court to have the current corporate situation.