Ford Motor Co. v. United States - 335 U.S. 303 (1948)
U.S. Supreme Court
Ford Motor Co. v. United States, 335 U.S. 303 (1948)
Ford Motor Co. v. United States
Argued October 11, 1948
Decided November 15, 1948
335 U.S. 303
1. In a civil antitrust suit by the United States against Ford and a finance company, a 1938 consent decree prohibited affiliation by Ford with any finance company, but provided that the prohibition would cease if, by January 1, 1941, General Motors was not similarly prohibited by court order. In 1940, the Government brought an equity suit against General Motors seeking divestiture of its affiliated finance company. After successive extensions of the prohibition against Ford, the Government moved, on December 31, 1945, to extend the prohibition to January 1, 1947. The suit against General Motors has not yet been set for trial. Ford and the finance company moved that the prohibition be lifted. The District Court granted the Government's motion and denied defendants' motion.
(a) Although the extension to January 1, 1947, has expired, the question whether the District Court properly granted it is not moot, since the Government's motion for a further extension has been held in abeyance pending the outcome of these appeals. P. 335 U. S. 313.
(b) Ford was entitled to the lifting of the prohibition against affiliation with any finance company, and the District Court's extension of the prohibition to January 1, 1947, was improper. Chrysler Corp. v. United States, 316 U. S. 556, distinguished. Pp. 335 U. S. 320-322.
2. The consent decree also restrained various practices whereby dealers were influenced to patronize the finance company, but provided that Ford could move for modification or suspension if similar restrictions were not imposed on General Motors by court action. It also provided that a general verdict of guilty in a pending antitrust criminal proceeding against General Motors would be deemed a determination of the illegality of any agreement, act or practice
"which is held by the trial court, in its instructions to the jury,
to constitute a proper basis for the return of a general verdict of guilty."
In 1939, the jury returned a general verdict of guilty against General Motors upon instructions that coercion of dealers to utilize an affiliated finance company was illegal, but that mere persuasion was not. Ford and the finance company moved to suspend or modify provisions of the decree forbidding Ford to recommend, endorse, or advertise the finance company, to have agents of Ford and of the finance company present together with a dealer for the purpose of influencing the dealer to patronize the finance company, and to discriminate against other finance companies.
Held: upon the basis of the trial court's instructions to the jury in the criminal proceeding against General Motors, the motion should have been granted. Pp. 335 U. S. 313-320.
3. In the present posture of the case, the Government's claim that the practices restrained by the provisions of the decree are illegal under the Sherman Law, which has neither been admitted nor proven, does not justify the refusal of a court of equity to suspend or modify them. P. 335 U. S. 320.
(a) Appellants are entitled to insist that, so long as interdiction of these practices has not been decreed against General Motors, the Government be put to its proof. P. 335 U. S. 320.
(b) Lifting of the restraints imposed by the consent decree would not affect the liability of Ford for any violations of the Sherman Law that the Government may establish in court. P. 335 U. S. 320.
(c) To the extent that such restraints may in future be imposed on General Motors, they would, by the terms of the consent decree, also bind Ford. P. 335 U. S. 320.
68 F.Supp. 825 reversed.
In an antitrust suit by the United States against the Ford Motor Company and a finance company, the Government moved in the District Court for a further extension of a provision of a consent decree prohibiting Ford from affiliating with any finance company. Ford and the finance company moved for a lifting of the prohibition and for suspension or modification of other provisions of the decree. The District Court granted the Government's motion and denied the others. 68 F.Supp. 825. Upon appeals to this Court, reversed, p. 335 U. S. 322.