Cantor v. Detroit Edison Co.,
428 U.S. 579 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cantor v. Detroit Edison Co., 428 U.S. 579 (1976)

Cantor v. Detroit Edison Co.

No. 75-122

Argued January 14, 1976

Decided July 6, 1976

428 U.S. 579


Respondent, a private utility that is the sole supplier of electricity in southeastern Michigan, also furnishes its residential customers, without additional charge, with almost 50% of the most frequently used standard-size light bulbs under a longstanding practice antedating state regulation of electric utilities. This marketing practice for light bulbs is approved, as part of respondent's rate structure, by the Michigan Public Service Commission, and may not be changed unless and until respondent files, and the Commission approves, a new tariff. Petitioner, a retail druggist selling light bulbs, brought an action against respondent, claiming that it was using its monopoly power in the distribution of electricity to restrain competition in the sale of light bulbs in violation of the Sherman Act. The District Court entered a summary judgment against petitioner, holding on the authority of Parker v. Brown, 317 U. S. 341, that the Commission's approval of respondent's light bulb marketing practices exempted the practices from the federal antitrust laws, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Neither Michigan's approval of respondent's present tariff nor the fact that the light bulb exchange program may not be terminated until a new tariff is filed, is sufficient basis for implying an exemption from the federal antitrust laws for that program. Pp. 428 U. S. 592-598.

(a) The State's participation in the decision to have a light bulb exchange program is not so dominant that it is unfair to hold a private party responsible for its conduct in implementing the decision, but rather the respondent's participation in the decision is sufficiently significant to require that its conduct, like comparable conduct by unregulated businesses, conform to applicable federal law. Pp. 428 U. S. 592-595.

(b) Michigan's regulation of respondent's distribution of electricity poses no necessary conflict with a federal requirement that respondent's activities in competitive markets satisfy antitrust

Page 428 U. S. 580

standards. Merely because certain conduct may be subject to state regulation and to the federal antitrust laws does not necessarily mean that it must satisfy inconsistent standards, but, even assuming inconsistency, this would not mean that the federal interest must inevitably be subordinated to the State's; moreover, even assuming that Congress did not intend the antitrust laws to apply to areas of the economy primarily regulated by a State, the enforcement of the antitrust laws would not be foreclosed in an essentially unregulated area such as the electric light bulb market. Pp. 428 U. S. 595-598.

513 F.2d 630, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, and in which (except as to Parts II and IV) BURGER, C.J., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, and concurring in part, post, p. 428 U. S. 603. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 428 U. S. 605. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 428 U. S. 614.

Page 428 U. S. 581

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