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D.C. Circuit Reverses Decision Denying Preliminary Injunction in Whole Foods/Wild Oats Merger

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : July 29, 2008

Today, the D.C. Circuit reversed the district court’s decision that denied a preliminary injunction in the Whole Foods/Wild Oats merger. FTC v. Whole Foods Markets, Inc., No. 07-5276 (D.C. Cir. July 29, 2008) (Whole Foods decision). Crucial to the decision was the D.C. Circuit’s holding that the FTC might have been able to establish a submarket consisting of premium natural and organic supermarkets.

The case was remanded to the district court and one of the questions was whether there was some remedy available during the pendency of the FTC administrative proceedings. The D.C. Circuit noted that the FTC complained of adverse effects on competition in only eighteen different local markets. The D.C. Circuit also noted that neither party discussed whether sufficient distribution facilities were available for Wild Oats to remain a viable competitor and if only one Wild Oats store can re-open that would be better than nothing. The D.C. Circuit suggested a hold separate order, which seems to imply that the assets would be carved out and transferred from Whole Foods to a trustee. This begs the question, however, of who would (and could) manage the store(s) independent of Whole Foods.

Ultimately, it seems like Whole Foods can expect to lose the administrative proceedings. If it does, Whole Foods may have to divest stores in these markets. The Supreme Court long ago held that divestiture is the preferred remedy. Neither the courts nor the agencies favor rescission.

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