In an opinion written by Judge Posner, the Seventh Circuit on Friday, June 9, 2017, affirmed OSF Saint Francis Medical Center’s summary judgment win in a $300 million antitrust suit brought by a smaller competitor alleging unlawful exclusive dealing and attempted monopolization.  This alert discusses the Court’s decision in this case, which is a notable precedent for hospitals and provider networks — particularly those with substantial market shares — that wish to negotiate narrow and exclusive network agreements with payors.

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the State of Illinois successfully concluded their challenge to the proposed merger of Advocate Health Care and NorthShore University Health System earlier this month, when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the health systems from consummating their proposed merger.  The parties subsequently abandoned the transaction without appealing the district court’s decision.

The district court had previously denied the motion for a preliminary injunction.  It believed that the geographic market proposed by the plaintiffs was too narrow and found the evidence “equivocal” regarding the importance of patients having access to hospitals close to their homes.  As such, it held that the plaintiffs had not met their burden of proving a relevant geographic market and thus, did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits.  However, in October 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings on the issue of geographic market definition, holding that the lower court erred in its factual findings regarding critical aspects of the geographic market, as well as the remaining preliminary injunction elements that the district court did reach in its first decision.

This alert examines the court’s decision, which not only supports the FTC’s hospital merger enforcement program but continues to up the ante for merging parties attempting to persuade a court that the proposed efficiencies are sufficient to offset alleged anticompetitive effects.