States, DOJ ask court to revive antitrust lawsuit against Meta
A group of 46 U.S. states, D.C. and Guam on Monday asked a federal court to reinstate an antitrust lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Inc., which owns the social media platform Facebook, after a lower court said the plaintiffs had waited too long to sue.
The effort is led by New York and includes all states except Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and South Dakota, according to court documents. The group is seeking to challenge Meta’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood argued Monday before a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the lower court was wrong in its decision to dismiss the case without discovery last year on the basis that the states had waited too long to take action, under the legal doctrine of “laches.”
“Forty-six states, and D.C. and Guam, have alleged that Facebook, now Meta, has used its monopoly power to buy or bury potential competitors,” Underwood said in oral arguments.
The states allege Facebook did this, in part, through acquiring competitors and attempting to curtail potential competitive behavior on the platform.
“As a result, it has stifled competition and denied consumers the improvements in service and other benefits that competition provides. The states bring this action to protect the public from the continuing harm caused by this conduct,” Underwood said.
Underwood countered the argument that the states had waited too long to bring their suit, noting that Facebook is facing a similar suit from the Federal Trade Commission.
“There was no harm to Facebook from the states filing their complaint in 2020 instead of a few years earlier,” Underwood said. The Justice Department joined the states’ argument, represented during oral arguments by Daniel Haar from the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.
Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion and bought WhatsApp two years later for $19 billion.
Meta’s legal team stood firm in their argument that the states should have acted earlier on the “highly publicized” purchases — and that laches prevents the lawsuit from moving forward at this time.
“The transactions look place in 2012 and 2014, and all of this conduct was, of course, quite open and publicized at the time … And yet we see a suit that’s filed at the end of 2020. The doctrine of laches exists to prevent that kind of unfair delay,” argued Meta attorney Aaron Panner.
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