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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. United States Steel Corp., 251 U.S. 417 (1920)

United States v. United States Steel Corporation

No. 6

Argued March 9, 12-14, 1917

Restored to docket for reargument May 21, 1917

Reargued October 7-10, 1919

Decided March 1, 1920

251 U.S. 417


That an industrial combination is formed with the expectation of achieving a monopoly is not enough to make it a monopoly within the meaning of the Anti-Trust Act. P. 251 U. S. 444.

Held that the power attained by the United States Steel Corporation, much greater than that of any one competitor, but not greater than that possessed by them all, did not constitute it a monopoly. Id.

The fact that a corporation, alleged to be an illegal combination, during a long period after its formation, persuaded and joined with its competitors

Page 251 U. S. 418

in efforts, at times successful and at times not, to fix and maintain prices in violation of the Anti-Trust Act, dos not warrant present relief against it if the illegal practices were transient in purpose and effect, were abandoned before the suit was begun because of their futility and not for fear of prosecution, and have not since been resumed, and if no intention to resume them or dangerous probability of their resumption is shown by the evidence. Pp. 251 U. S. 444 et seq.

Purpose and effect of the Steel Corporation's acquisition of control of the Tennessee Coal & Iron Company considered in the light of President Roosevelt's prior approval of the transaction and his testimony concerning it. P. 251 U. S. 446.

Upon the question whether the power possessed by the Steel Corporation operated per se as an illegal restraint, held that testimony of its officers, its competitors, and hundreds of its customers to the effect that competition was not restrained and that prices varied or remained constant according to natural conditions must be accepted as clearly outweighing a generalization advanced by government experts that constancy of prices during certain periods evinced an artificial interference. P. 251 U. S. 447.

An industrial combination short of a monopoly is not objectionable under the act merely because of its size -- its capital and power of production -- or merely because of a power to restrain competition, if not exerted. Pp. 251 U. S. 447, 251 U. S. 450 et seq.

The act prohibits overt acts, and trusts to their repression and punishment. P. 251 U. S. 451.

The fact that competitors of a combination voluntarily follow its prices does not establish an unlawful restraint; the act does not compel competition. Pp. 251 U. S. 449-451.

In commanding the courts to "prevent and restrain violations" of it, the Anti-Trust Law has regard to conditions as they may exist when relief is invoked, and to the usual powers of a court of equity to adapt its remedies to those conditions. P. 251 U. S. 452.

The act does not expect the courts to enforce abstractions to the subversion of its own purposes, but leaves to them to determine, in each instance, the relief appropriate for the execution of its policy. Id.

Therefore, admitting that the Steel Corporation was in origin a combination of competing companies actuated by an unlawful purpose, yet, it being proved and found in this case that that purpose, and illegal practices which followed the combination, were abandoned as futile months before this suit was begun, and that the combination, viewed as of today, is not in itself or by its conduct offensive to the statute, the policy of the statute, which respects the public interest

Page 251 U. S. 419

as paramount, would be defeated, rather than subserved, were the court, for retrospective reasons merely, to destroy the combination, or separate some of its subsidiaries as suggested, and thereby destroy or impair the investments invited of the public, and the foreign trade and other large development made during the ten years that intervened before the government began any legal attack. Pp. 251 U. S. 452 et seq. Standard Oil Co. v. United States, 221 U. S. 1, and United States v. American Tobacco Co., 221 U. S. 106, distinguished.

No feasible way of dissolving the combination and yet protecting its foreign trade, under the Webb Act, c. 50, 2, 40 tat. 516, or otherwise, has been suggested. P. 251 U. S. 453.

223 F. 55 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 251 U. S. 426

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