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decided: February 26, 1951.



Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark; Minton took no part in the consideration or decision of this case

Author: Clark

[ 340 U.S. Page 559]

 MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This action was brought in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois under § 4 of the Clayton Act*fn1 to recover treble damages for injuries alleged to have been suffered by reason of a conspiracy in restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act, § 1.*fn2 Plaintiffs, petitioners here, are Emich Motors Corporation, a former dealer in Chevrolet cars, and its related finance company, U.S. Acceptance Corporation. Respondents are General Motors Corporation and its wholly owned subsidiary finance company, General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC).

Prior to this action respondents had been convicted in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Indiana on an indictment charging them, and certain of their officers and agents who were acquitted, with a conspiracy in restraint of interstate trade in General Motors cars. At trial in the instant case petitioners were permitted

[ 340 U.S. Page 560]

     to introduce the antecedent criminal indictment, verdict and judgment as evidence under § 5 of the Clayton Act, which provides in part that

"A final judgment or decree rendered in any criminal prosecution or in any suit or proceeding in equity brought by or on behalf of the United States under the antitrust laws to the effect that a defendant has violated said laws shall be prima facie evidence against such defendant in any suit or proceeding brought by any other party against such defendant under said laws as to all matters respecting which said judgment or decree would be an estoppel as between the parties thereto . . . ."*fn3

A judgment for petitioners was reversed by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit partly on the ground that the trial court erred in the use it permitted the jury to make of evidence derived from the prior criminal proceeding. 181 F.2d 70 (1950). We granted certiorari, limiting review to important questions as to the scope of § 5 of the Clayton Act. 340 U.S. 808 (1950), rehearing denied 340 U.S. 894 (1950).


The relevant facts as to the criminal prosecution against respondents may be stated briefly. The charge of the indictment was summarized on appeal as follows:

". . . paragraph 34 charges . . . a conspiracy to restrain unduly the interstate trade and commerce in General Motors automobiles. Paragraph 35 states that the purpose of the defendants was to monopolize and control the business of financing the trade and commerce in new and used General Motors automobiles. Paragraph 70 alleges that dealers have complied

[ 340 U.S. Page 561]

     with the defendants' coercive plan in order to save substantial investments in their businesses, paragraph 71 states that the effect of the conspiracy has been to restrain and burden unreasonably the interstate trade and commerce in General Motors automobiles, and paragraph 72 is a restatement of paragraph 34.

"The specific conduct embraced within the illegal concert of action is described in paragraphs 36 to 67 of the indictment . . . : (1) Requiring dealers to promise to use GMAC exclusively as a condition to obtaining a franchise for the sale, transportation and delivery of automobiles; (2) Making contracts for short periods and cancellable without cause, canceling or threatening to cancel such contracts unless GMAC facilities are used; (3) Discriminating against dealers not using GMAC by refusing to deliver cars when ordered, delaying shipment and shipping cars of different number, model, color and style; (4) Compelling dealers to disclose how they finance their wholesale purchases and retail sales, examining and inspecting dealers' books and accounts in order to procure this information, and requiring dealers to justify their using other financing media; (5) Giving special favors to dealers using the wholesale and retail facilities of GMAC; (6) Granting special favors to GMAC which are denied to other discount companies; (7) Giving dealers a rebate from the GMAC finance charge paid by the retail purchaser, in order to induce use of GMAC financing facilities; and (8) Compelling dealers to refrain from using other finance companies by all other necessary, appropriate or effective means."*fn4

[ 340 U.S. Page 562]

     The criminal case was submitted to the jury with instructions that the Government need not prove all of some twenty-six acts alleged in the indictment as the means of effecting the conspiracy. The jury rendered a general verdict finding the corporate defendants guilty and acquitting all individual defendants. Maximum fines were assessed against each of the corporations. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. United States v. General Motors Corp., 121 F.2d 376 (1941). This Court denied certiorari, 314 U.S. 618 (1941), rehearing denied 314 U.S. 710 (1941).

Among the almost 50 dealers and former dealers whose testimony the Government introduced in the criminal action was Fred Emich, who owned or controlled the corporations which are petitioners here. On the criminal ...

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