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U.S. Supreme Court

Minnesota Mining v. New Jersey Wood Finishing, 381 U.S. 311 (1965)

Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. v.

New Jersey Wood Finishing Co.

No. 291

Argued April 29, 1965

Decided May 24, 1965

381 U.S. 311


Respondent filed this private antitrust suit in 1961, alleging violations of § 7 of the Clayton Act and §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, arising out of petitioner's acquisition in 1956 of the assets of Insulation and Wires, Inc., which had been the primary distributor of electric insulation materials manufactured by respondent. Petitioner claimed that the action was barred by the four-year limitation provision of § 4B of the Clayton Act, but respondent asserted that the bar of the statute was tolled under § 5(b) by a proceeding timely filed in 1960 against petitioner pursuant to § 7 of the Clayton Act by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That proceeding resulted in a consent order under which petitioner was directed to divest itself of the acquired assets. Section 5(a) of the Clayton Act makes a final judgment or decree in any civil or criminal proceeding brought by or on behalf of the United States prima facie evidence in later private suits as to all matters respecting which that judgment or decree would be an estoppel as between the parties. Section 5(b) provides that a civil or criminal proceeding instituted by the United States to prevent, restrain, or punish violations of the antitrust laws tolls the statute of limitations during the pendency thereof and for one year thereafter for private actions arising under those laws and based on any matter complained of in the government suit. The District Court held that the statute had been tolled by § 5(b), and that the suit was timely filed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. Sections 5(a) and 5(b) of the Clayton Act are not wholly interdependent or coextensive. Pp. 381 U. S. 316-318.

(a) The words "final judgment or decree" are important in the application of § 5(a), while § 5(b), which applies to every private right of action based on any matter complained of in the government suit and is not limited to matters which would operate as an estoppel, tolls the statute of limitations regardless of whether a final judgment or decree is entered. Pp. 381 U. S. 316-317. chanrobles.com-red

Page 381 U. S. 312

(b) In § 5(a), Congress was concerned with the narrow issue of the use of judgments or decrees as prima facie evidence in private suits, whereas, in § 5(b), Congress meant to assist private litigants in obtaining all the benefits they might cull from government antitrust actions. P. 381 U. S. 317.

2. Absent any specific legislative history on the inclusion of FTC actions within the tolling provision, the issue is resolved by reliance on the clear expression of congressional intention that private suitors be given the benefits of prior government actions, which would necessarily include FTC proceedings. The benefits of § 5(b) should not depend on an arbitrary allocation of enforcement responsibility between the Department of Justice and the FTC. Pp. 381 U. S. 320-322.

3. Petitioner's Sherman Act claims, arising from the asset acquisition which was the basis of the FTC proceeding, although requiring a greater burden of proof than the Clayton Act charges, clearly are based "in part on any matter complained of" in the FTC action. Pp. 381 U. S. 322-324.

332 F.2d 346 affirmed.


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