In general, an effort to influence the exercise of government power, even for the purpose of gaining an anticompetitive advantage, does not create liability under the antitrust laws. In Noerr, the Supreme Court held immune from antitrust liability a combination of rail freight interests which was formed in order to have legislation passed that would grant the members of the combination a competitive advantage over truckers. Noerr, 365 U.S. at 145. The Supreme Court has read Noerr broadly: "Noerr shields from the Sherman Act a concerted effort to influence public officials regardless of intent or purpose." Pennington, 381 U.S. at 670. "Joint efforts to influence public officials do not violate the antitrust laws even though intended to eliminate competition." Id. The Supreme Court has applied the Noerr-Pennington doctrine to courts and administrative agencies. California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 510-11 (1972) (California Transport). The Noerr-Pennington doctrine thus protects those who attempt to use the power of government organs, including the judiciary, to further private ends.
There is an important exception: the Noerr-Pennington doctrine does not protect litigation from suit under the antitrust laws if the litigation is a "sham." The Supreme Court in Noerr recognized that if an action "ostensibly directed toward influencing governmental action, is a mere sham to cover what is actually nothing more than an attempt to interfere directly with the business relationships of a competitor [then] the application of the Sherman Act would be justified." Noerr, 365 U.S. at 144. See also California Transport, 404 U.S. at 511-16 (remanding for determination of whether the sham exception to the general immunity from the antitrust laws applied).
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