Statute of Limitations

Section 4B of the Clayton Act states that private causes of action under
the antitrust laws are “forever barred unless commenced within four years
after the cause of action accrued.1 The limitations peri od serves to put old
1. 15 U.S.C.§ 15b; see, e.g., Midwestern Mach. Co. v. Nw. Airlines, 392 F.3d
265, 271 (8th Cir. 2004) (challenge to airline merger under § 7 of Clayton
Act was barred by st atute of limitations , even though survi ving airline did
not begin using assets of acquired airline in an anticompetitiv e manner until
within four years of plaintiff’s lawsuit, because “it was clear at the time of
the merger here that the combination of [the two airlines] could lessen
competition”); see also T oledo Mack Sales & Serv. v. Mack Trucks, 530
F.3d 204, 218 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that plaintiff’s burden was to “present
evidence sufficient to allow a rational jury to conclude that [defenda nt] and
its dealers committed during the [four-year] limitations period overt acts in
furtherance of an illegal conspiracy or conspiracies, even if the
conspiracies began before the limitations period”); Novell, Inc. v.
Microsoft Corp., 505 F.3d 302, 307 (4th Cir. 2007) (dismissing
monopolization claims asserted as time barred); Hamilton County Bd. of
Comm’rs v. NFL, 491 F.3 d 310, 315 (6th Cir. 2007) (stating that “antitr ust
claimants have four years from the date an action accrues to bring a
lawsuit”); Kristian v. Comcast Corp., 446 F.3d 25, 43 (1st Cir. 2006)
(holding that the four-year statute of limitations period which was in direct
conflict with a clause in the arbitration agreements at issue did not present
questions of arbitrability); In re Copper Antitrust Litig., 436 F.3d 782, 793
(7th Cir. 2006) (affirming the district court’s granting of summary
judgment in favor of d efendants because plaintiffs filed the claims too late);
Champagne Metals v. Ken-Mac Metals, Inc., 458 F.3d 1073, 1090 (10th
Cir. 2006) (holding that, although plaintiff filed suit well outside the fo ur-
year limitations period, claims were not time barred because the continuing
conspiracy exception applied to defendant’s decision to boycott plaintiff’s
business); Daniel v. Am. B d. of Emergency Med., 4 28 F.3d 408, 435 (2d
Cir. 2005) (stating that a “compelling reason for transfer is generally
acknowledged when a plaintiff’s case, if dismissed, would be time-barred
on refiling in the proper forum”) (internal quotations omitted); Varner v.
Peterson Farms, 371 F.3d 1011, 1019 (8th Cir. 2004) (stating that the four-
year limitations period “commences on the date the cause of action accrues,
that being, the dat e on which the wrongdoer commit s an act that injures the
business of another” ); McCurdy v. Lassa, No. 98-15595, 1999 U.S. App.
LEXIS 9122, at *7 (9th Cir. 1999) (holding that plaintiffs did not satisfy
the four-year statute of limitations because they failed to prove that
58 Proving Antitrust Damages
liabilities to rest and to relieve courts and parties from claims that rest on
stale evidence.2 The limitations period may also set important limits on the
conduct for which damages may be awarded.
Prior to the enactment of Section 4B in 1955, courts looked to state
statutes, which had varied limitations periods from one to twenty years, to
determine limitations on actions brought under the Clayton Act. This
practice resulted in uncertainty and forum shopping, which Congress
sought to eliminate:
The long duration of [ antitrust] pro ceedings taken in conj unction with a
lengthy statute of limitations may tend to p rolong stale claims, unduly
impair efficient business operations, and overburden the calendars of the
courts . . . . [The Committee] does not believe that undue prolongation
of proceedings is conducive to effective and efficient enforcement of the
antitrust laws.3
Notwithstanding the four-year statutory limitation, several exceptions
may extend the time for filing suit. These exceptions fall into two general
categories: (1) circumstances that delay or renew the “accrual” of a cause
of action and hence the running of the statute; and (2) circumstances that
defendants’ witness testified at a previous trial, in furtherance of the
separate conspiracy forged between himself and defendants); Texas Grain
Storage v. Monsanto Co., No. SA-07-ca-673-OG, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
53513, at *14 (W.D. Tex. 2008) (order granting in part and denying in part
motion to dismiss); Geron v. Odfjell ASA (In re Parcel Tanker Ship ping
Servs. Antitrust Litig.), No. 04-cv-1687 (AVC), 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
33687, at *16 (D. Conn. 2007) (order denying in part and granting in p art
motion to dismiss); In re Rubber Chems. Antitrust Litig., 504 F.Supp. 2d
777, 787 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (stating that if no tolling doctrine applies,
plaintiffs’ claims for injuries are limited to injuries suffered as a result of
overt acts that took place within the four-year limitations p eriod); In re
Carbon Black Antitrust Litig., No. 03-cv-10191, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
660, at *19 (D. Mass. 2005) (order denying motion to dismiss); U nited
Food Mart v. Motiva Enters., 457 F. Supp. 2d 1329, 1339 (S.D. Fla. 2005)
(holding that defenda nt’s establishment o f a zone area pricing syste m did
not constitute one overt act and instead each sale started a new statutory
limitations period); In re Vitamins Antitrust Litig., No. 99-197 (TFH),
2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25795, at *20 (D.D.C. 2002) (order granting motion
to compel).
2. Of note, a five-year stat ute of limitations generally will apply to criminal
prosecutions. 18 U.S.C. § 3282.
3. See S. REP. NO. 619, 84th Cong., 1st Sess. (1955), reprinted in 1955
U.S.C.C.A.N. 2328, 2331-32.

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