The Supreme Court yesterday defeated a prolonged attempt by about 180 of the nation's largest corporations to avoid providing detailed financial information to the Federal Trade Commission which wants to assess relationships between market structure and performances as well as strengthen antitrust enforcement.
The justices declined three separate petitions for by the corporations for a review of a ruling upholding the commission's controversial Line of Business (LB) program. Under the program, the 500 largest manufacturers must supply cost sales and profit data in 260 industry categories.
The agency began in 1970 to develop an LB reporting form, so that, for example, a conglometre with laundry appliances as one of its lines of business would have to disclose information comparable to that disclosed by a cmopany that made only washing machines and dryers.
Objections and problems within the government delayed issuance of the initial LB form until about three years ago. The subsequent litigation caused further delay.
The companies involved in the litigation included such "Blue Chips" as Aluminum Co. of America, Bethelehem Steel, Bristol-Myers, Atlantic Richfield and Exxon.
The central complaint was that the commission hadn't followed federal rule-making procedures. But U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Flannery ruled for the commission and was upheld last July by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
At the same time, the lower courts upheld the FTC's Corporate Patterns Survey Report (CPR), which is intended to contribute to a data bank for law enforcement, economic studies and policy planning.
The FTC ordered about 1,000 companies to file CPRs providing "best estimates" of the value of their shipments under uniform Census Bureau definitions.
The great majority of the firms complied, but most of the firms tha went to court to resist the LB requirements also challenged the CPRs.
The Supreme Court took other actions.
The court let stand a ruling that companies annually selling about $2 billion worth of prescription drugs to the federal government must give the General Accounting Office access to "directly pertinent" records for confidential review of production costs and prices.
Uniquely among government contractors, leading pharmaceutical manufacturers denied access to the congressional watchdog agency despite having signed standard procurement agreements pledging to provide it.
The court acted in a case involving Eli Lilly & Co. of Indianapolis. Other manufacturers in various stages of litigation are Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Myers, Merck and Smith Kline & French. All basically contend that the GAO had sought access for an improper purpose, data collection for a research study.
U.S. District Judge Cale J. Holder in Indianapolis and then the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the contention, agreeing that the purpose was to review the prices paid under negotiated contracts so as to determine if these are the best method of procurement.
But Holder, saying that the Comptroller General had exceeded his authority, ruled for Lilly. The appeals court reversed with a 2 to 1 decision that adopted almost totally the government position: the laws don't grant drug companies an exception unavailable to federal suppliers in any other industry.
Investment Advisers Act
The court agreed to review a decision by a divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a person injured by violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 has an implied right to sue for damages and injunctive relief.
The ruling was made in a suit brought against Transamerica Corp. by Harry Lewis, a shareholder in its Mortgage Trust of America. He complained that MTA had violated the act and its fiduciary responsibilities.
The court preserved the conviction of Fruehauf Corp. and two of its former top executives, Thomas P. Thornton and William E. Grace, on a charge of having conspired to defraud the government of $12.3 million in federal excise taxes for a nine-year period ended Dec. 31. 1965.