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decided: May 17, 1982.



Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Stevens, and O'connor, JJ., joined. Burger, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 578. Powell, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which White and Rehnquist, JJ., joined, post, p. 578.

Author: Blackmun

[ 456 U.S. Page 558]

 JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Inc. (ASME), is a nonprofit membership corporation organized in 1880 under the laws of the State of New York. This case presents the important issue of the Society's civil liability under the antitrust laws for acts of its agents performed

[ 456 U.S. Page 559]

     with apparent authority. Because the judgment of the Court of Appeals upholding civil liability is consistent with the central purposes of the antitrust laws, we affirm that judgment.


ASME has over 90,000 members drawn from all fields of mechanical engineering. It has an annual operating budget of over $12 million. It employs a full-time staff, but much of its work is done through volunteers from industry and government. The Society engages in a number of activities, such as publishing a mechanical engineering magazine and conducting educational and research programs.

In addition, ASME promulgates and publishes over 400 separate codes and standards for areas of engineering and industry. These codes, while only advisory, have a powerful influence: federal regulations have incorporated many of them by reference, as have the laws of most States, the ordinances of major cities, and the laws of all the Provinces of Canada. See Brief for Petitioner 2. Obviously, if a manufacturer's product cannot satisfy the applicable ASME code, it is at a great disadvantage in the marketplace.

Among ASME's many sets of standards is its Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. This set, like ASME's other codes, is very important in the affected industry; it has been adopted by 46 States and all but one of the Canadian Provinces. See id., at 5. Section IV of the code sets forth standards for components of heating boilers, including "low-water fuel cutoffs." If the water in a boiler drops below a level sufficient to moderate the boiler's temperature, the boiler can "dry fire" or even explode. A low-water fuel cutoff does what its name implies: when the water in the boiler falls below a certain level, the device blocks the flow of fuel to the boiler before the water level reaches a dangerously low point. To prevent dry firing and boiler explosions, para. HG-605 of Section IV provides that each boiler "shall have an automatic low-water fuel cutoff so located as to automatically cut

[ 456 U.S. Page 560]

     off the fuel supply when the surface of the water falls to the lowest visible part of the water gage glass." Plaintiff's Exhibit 30A. See 635 F.2d 118, 121 (CA2 1980).

For some decades, McDonnell & Miller, Inc. (M&M), has dominated the market for low-water fuel cutoffs. But in the mid-1960's, respondent Hydrolevel Corporation entered the low-water fuel cutoff market with a different version of this device. The relevant distinction, for the purposes of this case, was that Hydrolevel's fuel cutoff, unlike M&M's, included a time delay.*fn1

In early 1971, Hydrolevel secured an important customer. Brooklyn Union Gas Company, which had purchased M&M's product for several years, decided to switch to Hydrolevel's probe. Not surprisingly, M&M was concerned.

Because of its involvement in ASME, M&M was in an advantageous position to react to Hydrolevel's challenge. ASME's governing body had delegated the interpretation, formulation, and revision of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code to a Boiler and Pressure Vessel Committee. See App. 120. That committee in turn had authorized subcommittees to respond to public inquiries about the interpretation of the code. An M&M vice president, John W. James, was vice chairman of the subcommittee which drafted, revised, and interpreted Section IV, the segment of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code governing low-water fuel cutoffs.

After Hydrolevel obtained the Brooklyn Union Gas account, James and other M&M officials met with T. R. Hardin,

[ 456 U.S. Page 561]

     the chairman of the Section IV subcommittee.*fn2 The participants at the meeting planned a course of action. They decided to send an inquiry to ASME's Boiler and Pressure Vessel Committee asking whether a fuel cutoff with a time delay would satisfy the requirements of para. HG-605 of Section IV. James and Hardin, as vice chairman and chairman, respectively, of the relevant subcommittee, cooperated in drafting a letter, one they thought would elicit a negative response.

The letter was mailed over the name of Eugene Mitchell, an M&M vice president, to W. Bradford Hoyt, secretary of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Committee and a full-time ASME employee. App. 62. Following ASME's standard routine, Hoyt referred the letter to Hardin, as chairman of the subcommittee. Under the procedures of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Committee, the subcommittee chairman -- Hardin -- could draft a response to a public inquiry without referring it to the entire subcommittee if he treated it as an "unofficial communication."

As a result, Hardin, one of the very authors of the inquiry, prepared the response. Id., at 63. Although he retained control over the inquiry by treating the response as "unofficial," the response was signed by Hoyt, secretary of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Committee, and it was sent out on April 29, 1971, on ASME stationery. Id., at 64. Predictably, Hardin's prepared answer, utilized verbatim in the Hoyt letter, condemned fuel cutoffs that incorporated a time delay:

"A low-water fuel cut-off is considered strictly as a safety device and not as some kind of an operating control. Assuming that the water gage glass is located in accordance with the requirements of Par. HG-602(b), it is the intent of Par. HG-605(a) that the low-water fuel

[ 456 U.S. Page 562]

     cut-off operate immediately and positively when the boiler water level falls to the lowest visible part of the water gage glass.

"There are many and varied designs of heating boilers. If a time delay feature were incorporated in a low-water fuel cut-off, there would be no positive assurance that the boiler water level would not fall to a dangerous point during a time delay period." Ibid.

As the Court of Appeals in this case observed, the second paragraph of the response does not follow from the first: "If the cut-off is positioned sufficiently above the lowest permissible water level, a cut-off with a time-delay could assure, even allowing for the delay, that the fuel supply would stop by the time the water fell to the lowest visible part of the water-gauge glass." 635 F.2d, at 122-123. Hoyt signed and mailed the response without checking its accuracy. See App. 124-126.

As anticipated, M&M seized upon this interpretation of Section IV to discourage customers from buying Hydrolevel's product. It instructed its salesmen to tell potential customers that Hydrolevel's fuel cutoff failed to satisfy ASME's code. See 635 F.2d, at 123. And M&M's employees did in fact carry the message of the subcommittee's response to customers interested in buying fuel cutoffs. Thus, M&M successfully used its position within ASME in an effort to thwart Hydrolevel's competitive challenge.

Several months later, Hydrolevel learned of the subcommittee interpretation from a former customer. Hydrolevel wrote ASME for a copy of the April 29 response. On February 8, 1972, over the signature of the assistant secretary of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Committee, ASME sent Hydrolevel a letter quoting the two paragraphs of the April 29 interpretation of Section IV. App. 66-67.

On March 23, Hydrolevel's president wrote Hoyt and demanded that ASME cure the effect of the April 29 letter by sending a correction to whomever might have received it.

[ 456 U.S. Page 563]

     to this story, ASME's Professional Practice Committee opened an investigation. It never discovered that James had been involved with the original inquiry. In a resolution reporting the results of its investigation, the committee decided that all ASME officials had acted properly. Further, the Professional Practice Committee "[commended] [James] for conducting himself in a forthright manner." Id., at 104.

Subsequently, James' part in drafting the original letter of inquiry became public because of his testimony in March 1975 before a Senate Subcommittee. See Voluntary Industrial Standards: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 94th Cong., 1st Sess., 186-199 (1975) (testimony of John W. James of M&M (ITT)); see also id., at 171-185 (testimony of Eugene Mitchell, Manager of Original Equipment Sales, ITT Fluid Handling Division). Within a few months, Hydrolevel filed suit against ITT, ASME, and Hartford in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Hydrolevel alleged that the defendants' actions had violated §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U. S. C. §§ 1 and 2. App. 11. Prior to trial, Hydrolevel sold all its assets, except this suit, for salvage value. Ultimately, ITT and Hartford settled.

The lawsuit proceeded to trial against ASME, as the remaining defendant. Hydrolevel requested the trial court to instruct the jury that ASME could be held liable under the antitrust laws for its agents' conduct if the agents acted within the scope of their apparent authority. See id., at 59. The District Court, however, rejected this approach and, instead, at ASME's suggestion, charged the jury that ASME could be held liable only if it had ratified its agents' actions or if the agents had acted in pursuit of ASME's interests. The District Court explained to the jury:

" If the officers or agents act on behalf of interests adverse to the corporation or acted for their own economic benefit or the benefit of another person or corporation,

[ 456 U.S. Page 565]

     and this action was not ratified or adopted by the defendant [ASME], their misconduct cannot be considered that of the corporation with which they are associated." Id., at 49.

The jury, nonetheless, returned a verdict for Hydrolevel.

Before the Court of Appeals, the parties disputed the sufficiency of the evidence to support a verdict based on the District Court's instruction. See 635 F.2d, at 125. But the Court of Appeals chose not to decide whether the evidence was sufficient to demonstrate that ASME had ratified its agents' actions or that the agents had acted to advance ASME's interests. Instead, after surveying the law of agency and the policies underlying the antitrust laws, the Court of Appeals concluded that ASME could be held liable if its agents had acted within the scope of their apparent authority. Id., at 124-127. Since, therefore, the District Court had delivered "a charge that was more favorable to the defendant than the law requires," id., at 127, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment on liability, that is, the jury's finding that ASME was liable under § 1 of the Sherman Act for its agents' actions.*fn4

Because the Court of Appeals' decision presents an important issue concerning the interpretation of the antitrust laws, we granted certiorari. 452 U.S. 937 (1981).



As the Court of Appeals observed, under general rules of agency law, principals are liable when their agents act with

[ 456 U.S. Page 566]

     apparent authority*fn5 and commit torts analogous to the antitrust violation presented by this case. See generally 10 W. Fletcher, Cyclopedia of the Law of Private Corporations para. 4886, pp. 400-401 (rev. ed. 1978); W. Seavey, Law of Agency § 92 (1964). For instance, a principal is liable for an agent's fraud though the agent acts solely to benefit himself, if the agent acts with apparent authority. See, e. g., Standard Surety & Casualty Co. v. Plantsville Nat. Bank, 158 F.2d 422 (CA2 1946), cert. denied, 331 U.S. 812 (1947). Similarly, a principal is liable for an agent's misrepresentations that cause pecuniary loss to a third party, when the agent acts within the scope of his apparent authority. Restatement (Second) of Agency §§ 249, 262 (1957) (Restatement); see Rutherford v. Rideout Bank, 11 Cal. 2d 479, 80 P. 2d 978 (1938). Also, if an agent is guilty of defamation, the principal is liable so long as the agent was apparently authorized to make the defamatory statement. Restatement §§ 247, 254. Finally, a principal is responsible if an agent acting with apparent authority tortiously injures the business relations of a third person. Id., § 248 and Comment b, p. 548.

Under an apparent authority theory, "[liability] is based upon the fact that the agent's position facilitates the consummation of the fraud, in that from the point of view of the third person the transaction seems regular on its face and the agent appears to be acting in the ordinary course of the business confided to him." Id., § 261, Comment a, p. 571. See Record v. Wagner, 100 N. H. 419, 128 A. 2d 921 (1957). As with the April 29 letter issued by the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Subcommittee, the injurious statements are "effective, in part at least, because of the personality of the one

[ 456 U.S. Page 567]

     publishing it." Restatement § 247, Comment c, p. 545. In other words, "one who appears to have authority to make statements for the [principal] gives to his statements the weight of the [principal's] reputation," ibid. -- in this case, the weight of ASME's acknowledged expertise in boiler safety. See generally W. Prosser, Law of Torts 467 (4th ed. 1971).

ASME's system of codes and interpretative advice would not be effective if the statements of its agents did not carry with them the assurance that persons in the affected industries could reasonably rely upon their apparent trustworthiness. Behind the principal's liability under an apparent authority theory, then, is "business expediency -- the desire that third persons should be given reasonable protection in dealing with agents." Restatement § 262, Comment a, p. 572. See Ricketts v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 153 F.2d 757 (CA2 1946). The apparent authority theory thus benefits both ASME and the public whom ASME attempts to serve through its codes: "It is . . . for the ultimate interest of persons employing agents, as well as for the benefit of the public, that persons dealing with agents should be able to rely upon apparently true statements by agents who are purporting to act and are apparently acting in the interests of the principal." Restatement § 262, Comment a, p. 572.

The apparent authority theory has long been the settled rule in the federal system. See Ricketts v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 153 F.2d, at 759. In Friedlander v. Texas & Pacific R. Co., 130 U.S. 416 (1889), the Court held that an employer was not liable for the fraud of his agent, when the employer could derive no benefit from the agent's fraud. But Gleason v. Seaboard Air Line R. Co., 278 U.S. 349 (1929), discarded that rule. In Gleason, a railroad's employee sought to enrich himself by defrauding a customer of the railroad through a forged bill of lading. The Court of Appeals had absolved the railroad from liability because the employee perpetrated the fraud solely for his own benefit. But this Court reversed,

[ 456 U.S. Page 568]

     overruling Friedlander. 278 U.S., at 357. Noting that "there was . . . no want of authority in the agent," id., at 355, the Court held the railroad liable despite the agent's desire to benefit only himself. It explained that "few doctrines of the law are more firmly established or more in harmony with accepted notions of social policy than that of the liability of the principal without fault of his own." Id., at 356.

In a wide variety of areas, the federal courts, like this Court in Gleason, have imposed liability upon principals for the misdeeds of agents acting with apparent authority. See, e. g., Dark v. United States, 641 F.2d 805 (CA9 1981) (federal tax liability); National Acceptance Co. v. Coal Producers Assn., 604 F.2d 540 (CA7 1979) (common-law fraud); Holloway v. Howerdd, 536 F.2d 690 (CA6 1976) (federal securities fraud); United States v. Sanchez, 521 F.2d 244 (CA5 1975) (bail bond fraud), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 817 (1976); Kerbs v. Fall River Industries, Inc., 502 F.2d 731 (CA10 1974) (federal securities fraud); Gilmore v. Constitution Life Ins. Co., 502 F.2d 1344 (CA10 1974) (common-law fraud).*fn6

[ 456 U.S. Page 569]

     In the past, the Court has refused to permit broad common-law barriers to relief to constrict the antitrust private right of action. Perma Life Mufflers, Inc. v. International Parts Corp., 392 U.S. 134 (1968). It stated there that "the purposes of the antitrust laws are best served by insuring that the private action will be an ever-present threat" to deter antitrust violations. Id., at 139. In Perma Life Mufflers, the Court honored that purpose by denying defendants the right to invoke a common-law defense (the doctrine of in pari delicto) that was inconsistent with the antitrust laws. In this case, we can honor the statutory purpose best by interpreting the antitrust private cause of action to be at least as broad as a plaintiff's right to sue for analogous torts, absent indications that the antitrust laws are not intended to reach so far. See Texas Industries, Inc. v. Radcliff Materials, Inc., 451 U.S. 630, 639 (1981); Perma Life Mufflers,

[ 456 U.S. Page 570392]

     U.S., at 138. Our remaining inquiry, then, is whether ASME's liability under a theory of apparent authority is consistent with the intent behind the antitrust laws.*fn7


We hold that the apparent authority theory is consistent with the congressional intent to encourage competition. ASME wields great power in the Nation's economy. Its codes and standards influence the policies of numerous States and cities, and, as has been said about "so-called voluntary standards" generally, its interpretations of its guidelines "may result in economic prosperity or economic failure, for a number of businesses of all sizes throughout the country," as well as entire segments of an industry. H. R. Rep. No. 1981, 90th Cong., 2d Sess., 75 (1968). ASME can be said to be "in reality an extra-governmental agency, which prescribes rules for the regulation and restraint of interstate commerce." Fashion Originators' Guild of America, Inc. v. FTC, 312 U.S. 457, 465 (1941). When it cloaks its subcommittee officials with the authority of its reputation,

[ 456 U.S. Page 571]

     ASME permits those agents to affect the destinies of businesses and thus gives them the power to frustrate competition in the marketplace.

The facts of this case dramatically illustrate the power of ASME's agents to restrain competition. M&M instigated the submission of a single inquiry to an ASME subcommittee. For its efforts, M&M secured a mere "unofficial" response authored by a single ASME subcommittee chairman. Yet the force of ASME's reputation is so great that M&M was able to use that one "unofficial" response to injure seriously the business of a competitor.

Furthermore, a standard-setting organization like ASME can be rife with opportunities for anticompetitive activity. Many of ASME's officials are associated with members of the industries regulated by ASME's codes. Although, undoubtedly, most serve ASME without concern for the interests of their corporate employers, some may well view their positions with ASME, at least in part, as an opportunity to benefit their employers. When the great influence of ASME's reputation is placed at their disposal, the less altruistic of ASME's agents have an opportunity to harm their employers' competitors through manipulation of ASME's codes.*fn8

Again, the facts of this case are illustrative. Hardin was able to issue an interpretation of ASME's Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code which in effect declared Hydrolevel's product unsafe. Hardin's interpretation of the code was sent out

[ 456 U.S. Page 572]

     under Hoyt's name as secretary of the committee, though Hoyt exercised only ministerial duties and played no role in confirming the substance of the April 29, 1971, letter. See App. 125-126. Thus, without any meaningful safeguards,*fn9 ASME entrusted the interpretation of one of its codes to Hardin. As a result, M&M was able to use ASME's reputation to hinder Hydrolevel's competitive threat.

A principal purpose of the antitrust private cause of action, see 15 U. S. C. § 15, is, of course, to deter anticompetitive practices. Pfizer Inc. v. Government of India, 434 U.S. 308, 314 (1978); Perma Life Mufflers, Inc. v. International Parts Corp., 392 U.S., at 139; see Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330, 342-344 (1979). It is true that imposing liability on ASME's agents themselves will have some deterrent effect, because they will know that if they violate the antitrust laws through their participation in ASME, they risk the consequences of personal civil liability. But if, in addition, ASME is civilly liable for the antitrust violations of its agents acting with apparent authority, it is much more likely that similar antitrust violations will not occur in the future. "[Pressure] [will be] brought on [the organization] to see to it that [its] agents abide by the law." United States v. A & P Trucking Co., 358 U.S. 121, 126 (1958). Only ASME can take systematic steps to make improper conduct on the part of all its agents unlikely, and the possibility of civil liability will inevitably be a powerful incentive for ASME to take those steps.*fn10 Thus, a rule that imposes liability on the

[ 456 U.S. Page 573]

     standard-setting organization -- which is best situated to prevent antitrust violations through the abuse of its reputation -- is most faithful to the congressional intent that the private right of action deter antitrust violations.*fn11

The wisdom of the apparent authority rule becomes evident when it is compared to the alternative approaches advanced by the District Court's instructions to the jury, see supra, at 564-565, and advocated by ASME.*fn12 First, ASME insists that it should not be held liable unless it ratified the actions of its agents. But a ratification rule would have anticompetitive effects, directly contrary to the purposes of the antitrust laws. ASME could avoid liability by ensuring that it remained ignorant of its agents' conduct, and the antitrust laws would therefore encourage ASME to do as little as possible to oversee its agents. Thus, ASME's ratification theory would actually enhance the likelihood that the Society's reputation would be used for anticompetitive ends.

Second, ASME contends that it should not be held liable unless its agents act with an intent to benefit the Society. This proposed rule falls short, though, because it is simply irrelevant to the purposes of the antitrust laws. Whether

[ 456 U.S. Page 574]

     they intend to benefit ASME or not, ASME's agents exercise economic power because they act with the force of the Society's reputation behind them. And, whether they act in part to benefit ASME or solely to benefit themselves or their employers, ASME's agents can have the same anticompetitive effects on the marketplace. The anticompetitive practices of ASME's agents are repugnant to the antitrust laws even if the agents act without any intent to aid ASME, and ASME should be encouraged to eliminate the anticompetitive practices of all its agents acting with apparent authority, especially those who use their positions in ASME solely for their own benefit or the benefit of their employers.*fn13


Finally, ASME makes two additional arguments in an attempt to avoid antitrust liability. It characterizes treble damages for antitrust violations as punitive, and urges that

[ 456 U.S. Page 575]

     under traditional agency law the courts do not employ apparent authority to impose punitive damages upon a principal for the acts of its agents. See Lake Shore & M.S.R. Co. v. Prentice, 147 U.S. 101 (1893); United States v. Ridglea State Bank, 357 F.2d 495 (CA5 1966); see also Restatement § 217C.*fn14 It is true that antitrust treble damages were designed in part to punish past violations of the antitrust laws. See Texas Industries, Inc. v. Radcliff Materials, Inc., 451 U.S., at 639. But treble damages were also designed to deter future antitrust violations. Ibid. Moreover, the antitrust private action was created primarily as a remedy for the victims of antitrust violations. Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U.S. 477, 485-486 (1977); see Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720, 746-747 (1977). Treble damages "make the remedy meaningful by counterbalancing 'the difficulty of maintaining a private suit'" under the antitrust laws. Brunswick Corp., supra, at 486, n. 10, quoting 21 Cong. Rec. 2456 (1890) (remarks of Sen. Sherman). Since treble damages serve as a means of deterring

[ 456 U.S. Page 576]

     antitrust violations and of compensating victims, it is in accord with both the purposes of the antitrust laws and principles of agency law to hold ASME liable for the acts of agents committed with apparent authority. See Restatement § 217C, Comment c, p. 474 (rule limiting principal's liability for punitive damages does not apply to special statutes giving triple damages).

In addition, ASME contends it should not bear the risk of loss for antitrust violations committed by its agents acting with apparent authority because it is a nonprofit organization, not a business seeking profit. But it is beyond debate that nonprofit organizations can be held liable under the antitrust laws. See, e. g., Radiant Burners, Inc. v. Peoples Gas Light & Coke Co., 364 U.S. 656 (1961); Associated Press v. United States, 326 U.S. 1 (1945). Although ASME may not operate for profit, it does derive benefits from its codes, including the fees the Society receives for its code-related publications and services, the prestige the codes bring to the Society, the influence they permit ASME to wield, and the aid the standards provide the profession of mechanical engineering. Since the antitrust violation in this case could not have occurred without ASME's codes and ASME's method of administering them, it is not unfitting that ASME be liable for the damages arising from that violation. See W. Prosser, Law of Torts 459 (4th ed. 1971); W. Seavey, Law of Agency § 83 (1964). Furthermore, as shown above, ASME is in the best position to take precautions that will prevent future antitrust violations.*fn15 Thus, the fact that ASME is a nonprofit organization does not weaken the force of the antitrust and agency principles that indicate that ASME should be liable for Hydrolevel's antitrust injuries.

[ 456 U.S. Page 577]


We need not delineate today the outer boundaries of the antitrust liability of standard-setting organizations for the actions of their agents committed with apparent authority. There is no doubt here that Hardin acted within his apparent authority when he answered an inquiry about ASME's Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code as the chairman of the relevant ASME subcommittee. And in this case, we do not face a challenge to a good-faith interpretation of an ASME code reasonably supported by health or safety considerations. See Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, 373 U.S. 341 (1963). We have no difficulty in finding that this set of facts falls well within the scope of ASME's liability on an apparent authority theory.

When ASME's agents act in its name, they are able to affect the lives of large numbers of people and the competitive fortunes of businesses throughout the country. By holding ASME liable under the antitrust laws for the antitrust violations of its agents committed with apparent authority, we recognize the important role of ASME and its agents in the economy, and we help to ensure that standard-setting organizations will act with care when they permit their agents to

[ 456 U.S. Page 578]

     speak for them. We thus make it less likely that competitive challengers like Hydrolevel will be hindered by agents of organizations like ASME in the future.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

So ordered.


635 F.2d 118, affirmed.

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, concurring in the judgment.

I concur in the judgment. However, I do not agree with the reasoning that leads the Court to its conclusion. I agree with the result reached since petitioner permitted itself to be used to further the scheme which caused injury to respondent. At no time did petitioner disavow the challenged conduct of its members who misused their positions in the Society. Under the instructions approved by petitioner and given by the District Court, the jury found that petitioner had "ratified or adopted" the conduct in question.*fn* On that basis the judgment against petitioner should be affirmed but no general rule can appropriately be drawn from the Court's holding.


The Court today adopts an unprecedented theory of antitrust liability, one applied specifically to a nonprofit, standard-setting association but a theory with undefined boundaries that could encompass a broad spectrum of our country's nonprofit associations. The theory, based on the agency concept of "apparent authority," would impose the potentially

[ 456 U.S. Page 579]

     crippling burden of treble damages. In this case, the Court specifically holds that standard-setting organizations may be held liable for the acts of their agents even though the organization never ratified, authorized, or derived any benefit whatsoever from the fraudulent activity of the agent and even though the agent acted solely for his private employer's gain. In my view such an expansive rule of strict liability, at least as applied to nonprofit organizations, is inconsistent with the weight of precedent and the intent of Congress, unsupported by the rules of agency law that the Court purports to apply, and irrelevant to the achievement of the goals of the antitrust laws. Accordingly, I dissent.


The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) is a nonprofit, tax-exempt, membership corporation with over 90,000 members. Among its many activities, ASME drafts over 400 codes and standards. These codes have been developed through the voluntary efforts of ASME's members, and are a valuable public service. The Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, relevant in this case, is some 18,000 pages in length. In addition to preparing codes and standards, ASME members -- through committees -- perform the further service of responding to public inquiries concerning interpretation of the codes. Some measure of the extent of this service can be gathered from the 20,000-30,000 inquiries a year received by the organization concerning just the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code alone. As a result of a fraudulent answer given by an ASME subcommittee chairman to one of these thousands of inquiries, the entire organization has been exposed to potentially crippling liability.*fn1

[ 456 U.S. Page 580]

     Of course, nonprofit associations are subject to the antitrust laws. The Court has so held on several occasions. See Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773 (1975).*fn2 Yet the Court also has noted that the antitrust laws need not be applied to professional organizations in precisely the same manner as they are applied to commercial enterprises. In Goldfarb, supra, for example, the Court recognized that "[it] would be unrealistic to view the practice of professions as interchangeable with other business activities, and automatically to apply to the professions antitrust concepts that originated in other areas."*fn3 Id., at 788, n. 17. In view of this recognition, one would not have expected the Court to take

[ 456 U.S. Page 581]

     the occasion of this case to promulgate an expansive rule of antitrust liability not heretofore applied by it to a commercial enterprise much less to a nonprofit organization.

Indeed, the Court points to no case in which any court has held the apparent authority theory of liability applicable in an antitrust case. Nor does the Court cite a single decision in which the apparent authority theory of liability has been applied in a case involving treble or punitive damages and an agent who acts without any intention of benefiting the principal.*fn4 In a word, the Court makes new law, largely ignoring existing precedent.

In Mine Workers v. Coronado Coal Co., 259 U.S. 344 (1922), and Coronado Coal Co. v. Mine Workers, 268 U.S. 295 (1925), the Court held that the national union was not liable as principal for the antitrust violations of the local union. The Court was hesitant to impose treble-damages liability on a membership organization in the absence of clear evidence showing ratification or authorization.*fn5 Even in the context

[ 456 U.S. Page 582]

     of commercial enterprises, the Courts of Appeals that have considered the matter appear to reject antitrust liability upon mere apparent authority.*fn6

Moreover, the Court as much as concedes that an apparent authority rule of liability has rarely, if ever, been used to impose punitive damages upon the principal. See ante, at 570, n. 7.*fn7 Rather than contest this well-established rule of

[ 456 U.S. Page 583]

     agency law, the Court argues that treble damages are not punitive or, even if they are, the purposes of the antitrust laws override this basic rule of the law of agency. In fact the Court often has characterized treble-damages liability as punitive: "The very idea of treble damages reveals an intent to punish past, and to deter future, unlawful conduct." Texas Industries, Inc. v. Radcliff Materials, Inc., 451 U.S. 630, 639 (1981). See P. Areeda & D. Turner, Antitrust Law para. 311b (1978) ("whether or not compensatory damages ever punish, treble damages are indisputably punishment"). In the context of a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization it would seem even clearer that treble damages primarily punish and are intended to do so. There is no element of restitution here; ASME has derived no ill-gotten gain from the misdeeds of its disloyal agent.

In short, the Court launches on an uncharted course. I know of no antitrust decision that has imposed treble-damages liability upon a commercial enterprise, let alone a nonprofit organization, solely on an apparent authority theory of liability.*fn8 The antitrust laws have been effectively enforced for over 90 years without the need for such a theory of liability. Indeed, the very facts of this case belie the necessity

[ 456 U.S. Page 584]

     of simply creating a new theory of liability; the jury found ASME liable not upon a theory of apparent authority but upon the traditional basis of ratification or authorization. The apparent authority rationale was not even argued to the Second Circuit on appeal. The Second Circuit, and now this Court, reach out unnecessarily to embrace a dubious new doctrine. That the Court chooses the case of a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization to announce its new rule is particularly inappropriate. Nor can the Court's decision be squared with the intent of Congress in enacting the Sherman Act.


This case comes before us as an antitrust suit under the Sherman Act. Our focus should be on the intent of Congress.*fn9 See Texas Industries, Inc. v. Radcliff Materials, Inc., supra, at 639. And that intent emerges clearly from the legislative history:

[ 456 U.S. Page 585]

     "[The Sherman Act] was enacted in the era of 'trusts' and of 'combinations' of businesses and of capital organized and directed to control of the market by suppression of competition in the marketing of goods and services, the monopolistic tendency of which had become a matter of public concern. The end sought was the prevention of restraints to free competition in business and commercial transactions which tended to restrict production, raise prices or otherwise control the market to the detriment of purchasers or consumers of goods and services . . . ." Apex Hosiery Co. v. Leader, 310 U.S. 469, 492-493 (1940).

Senator Sherman twice explained that his bill was directed at anticompetitive business activity and not at voluntary associations. In response to a request that the legislation be more clearly tailored to "these great trusts, these great corporations, these large moneyed institutions," Senator Sherman answered as follows:

"The bill as reported contains three or four simple propositions which relate only to contracts, combinations, agreements made with a view and designed to carry out a certain purpose . . . . It does not interfere in the slightest degree with voluntary associations . . . to advance the interests of a particular trade or occupation. . . . They are not business combinations. They do not deal with contracts, agreements, etc. They have no connection with them." 21 Cong. Rec. 2562 (1890).

When Senator Hoar expressed the concern that the bill would prohibit temperance organizations, and proposed an amendment to exclude them from the bill, Senator Sherman spoke reassuringly:

"I have no objection to [this] amendment, but I do not see any reason for putting in temperance societies any more than churches or school-houses or any other kind of

[ 456 U.S. Page 586]

     moral or educational associations that may be organized. Such an association is not in any sense a combination or arrangement made to interfere with interstate commerce." Id., at 2658.

This legislative history does not indicate that nonprofit associations are exempt from the antitrust laws. See Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773 (1975). But it does counsel against adopting a new rule of agency law that extends the exposure of such organizations to potentially destructive treble-damages liability.

In addition to the legislative history, it is particularly relevant -- in view of the Court's reliance on the modern law of agency -- to consider the accepted law of agency as it existed at the time the Sherman Act was passed.*fn10 It was clear under basic principles then established that charitable organizations were not liable for the torts of their agents.*fn11

[ 456 U.S. Page 587]

     Whether a nonprofit, tax-exempt, public service association would have been considered a "charity" is not clear, but one would think that it well might have been.*fn12

Moreover, under the laws of agency as known to the Congress that passed the Sherman Act it was far from clear -- even in cases involving commercial enterprises -- that a principal could be held liable for the deliberate torts of his agent. According to one treatise of the time, "[while] . . . it is well settled that the principal is liable for the negligent act of his agent, committed in the course of his employment, it has been held in many cases, that he is not liable for the agent's willful or malicious act." F. Mechem, Law of Agency § 740 (1889) (hereafter Mechem).*fn13 Indeed, the Court acknowledges

[ 456 U.S. Page 588]

     this much when it notes that in Friedlander v. Texas & Pacific R. Co., 130 U.S. 416 (1889) -- decided the year before the Sherman Act was passed -- "the Court held that an employer was not liable for the fraud of his agent, when the employer could derive no benefit from the agent's fraud." Ante, at 567.*fn14

Finally, no principle of agency law was more firmly established in 1890 -- or now for that matter -- than that punitive damages are not awarded against a principal for the acts of an agent acting only with apparent authority and without any intention of benefiting the principal. Indeed, this Court

[ 456 U.S. Page 589]

     went further, holding more generally that "'punitive or vindictive damages, or smart money, [are] not to be allowed as against the principal, unless the principal participated in the wrongful act of the agent.'" Lake Shore & M.S.R. Co. v. Prentice, 147 U.S., at 114, quoting Hagan v. Providence & Worcester R. Co., 3 R.I. 88, 91 (1854).*fn15

Although an inquiry into the legislative history and the law of agency is not conclusive, it does cast serious doubt on the Court's choice of this case to promulgate a new rule of antitrust liability. Whatever the merits of an apparent authority rule of liability for commercial enterprises, in the case of a treble-damages action against a nonprofit organization, such a rule is inconsistent with what appears to have been the intent of Congress in enacting the Sherman Act.

[ 456 U.S. Page 590]


The underlying theme of the Court's opinion seems to be that any rule of agency law that widens the net of antitrust enforcement and liability should be adopted. Yet the Court has never used such a single-minded approach in the past. In United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 438 U.S. 422 (1978), for example, the Court held that intent is a necessary element of a criminal antitrust offense. The Court was unwilling to assume that Congress had intended to create a strict liability crime despite the potential increase in deterrence. Similarly, in Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720 (1977), the Court held that indirect purchasers could not use a "pass-on" theory to recover treble damages from an antitrust violator. The Court rejected the argument that the antitrust laws would be more effective were the class of potential plaintiffs widened. On the contrary, "the antitrust laws will be more effectively enforced by concentrating the full recovery for the overcharge in the direct purchasers rather than by allowing every plaintiff potentially affected by the overcharge to sue." Id., at 735. Nor would the Court accept a rule that might permit both indirect and direct purchasers to sue for the same overcharge. Such a rule "would create a serious risk of multiple liability for defendants." Id., at 730. Thus, the Court has adopted a more discerning approach to questions of antitrust liability in the past -- an approach that considers the fairness and appropriateness of a rule in addition to its perceived potential for deterrence.

The Court argues that its expanded rule of liability furthers effective antitrust enforcement. One may question whether a rule of liability developed so late in the day and with so little support in precedent can be described as necessary to antitrust enforcement. When one considers further that the jury found ASME liable under traditional principles, the need for an expanded rule becomes even less credible. Nor does the Court explain how its rule of apparent authority serves the purpose of effective antitrust enforcement. The

[ 456 U.S. Page 591]

     primary beneficiary in this case was McDonnell & Miller, the manufacturing company that arranged for the fraudulent ruling by the ASME subcommittee chairman. The sole purpose of the fraud was to disadvantage McDonnell & Miller's competitor. The focus of Hydrolevel's attack, however, has been on ASME.*fn16 It is curious reasoning to argue, as the Court does, that a rule that encourages plaintiffs to seek recovery from nonprofit organizations, rather than from the commercial enterprises that benefited from the violation, will facilitate proper antitrust enforcement.*fn17

[ 456 U.S. Page 592]

     In a more fundamental sense, the Court's assignment of liability to ASME on a theory of apparent authority simply has no relevance to the furtherance of the purposes of the antitrust laws. ASME is not a competitor. The competition here was between McDonnell & Miller, Inc., and Hydrolevel. Of course, if ASME ratifies the fraudulent act of its agent, as the jury found, liability should attach. But the Court has devised what amounts to a rule of strict liability for voluntary associations in antitrust cases. Under the Court's rule ASME would be liable if an ASME building employee pilfered ASME stationery and supplied it to McDonnell & Miller. Similarly, if a private pharmaceutical school -- a tax-exempt corporation like ASME -- released a study condemning a particular drug, because a competing drug company had suborned the professor who wrote the report, the Court's rule would subject the school to the full brunt of treble damages.

Section 1 of the Sherman Act requires a contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade. The Court attaches liability in this case on the dubious notion that ASME somehow has "conspired" with McDonnell & Miller. Yet it stretches the concept of vicarious liability beyond its rational limits to conceive of Hardin and James as conspiring on behalf of ASME when they acted solely for the benefit of McDonnell & Miller and against the interests of ASME.*fn18 The Court simply opens new vistas in the law of conspiracy and vicarious liability, as well as in the imposition of the harsh penalty of treble damages.

[ 456 U.S. Page 593]

     Whatever the application of agency law in its traditional setting, application of the most expansive rules of liability in the context of antitrust treble damages and nonprofit, tax-exempt associations threatens serious injustice and overdeterrence. There is no way in which an association adequately can protect itself from this sort of liability. There is no chain of delegated authority, from stockholders through directors and officers, in the typical voluntary association. The members of these associations exercise a far less structured control than the stockholders and directors of a commercial enterprise. Perhaps ASME will attempt to protect itself by ceasing to respond to inquiries concerning its codes. That hardly would contribute either to antitrust enforcement or to the public welfare. And whereas a commercial enterprise may have the resources to bear a treble-damages award, the same cannot be said of most nonprofit organizations.*fn19

The Court is so zealous to impose treble-damages liability that it ignores a basic purpose of the Sherman Act: the preservation of private action contributing to the public welfare. See United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 438 U.S., at 438-443.

[ 456 U.S. Page 594]

     ASME industry standard-setting can have a significant potential for consumer benefit: for example, its boiler safety information can be expensive if consumers are forced to gain it only by their own experience or by the creation of another bureaucracy. The Court's policy discussion takes no account of this potential cost. Rather, it appears to be so concerned with imposing liability that it puts at risk much of the beneficial private activity of the voluntary associations of our country.

How far the Court's holding extends is unclear. The Court emphasizes that ASME is a standard-setting organization. Yet it does not limit its rationale to these particular organizations. One must be concerned whether the new doctrine and the sweep of the Court's language will be read as exposing the array of nonprofit associations -- professional, charitable, educational, and even religious -- to a new theory of strict liability in treble damages.


* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Michael D. Brown for the American Association of Engineering Societies, Inc.; by Lewis H. Van Dusen, Jr., for the American Society for Testing and Materials; by Robert J. Siverd for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.; by David Crump for the Legal Foundation of America; and by Daniel J. Piliero II for the National Fire Protection Association.

Merle L. Royce and James P. Chapman filed a brief for ECOS Electronic Corp. as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed by Henry A. Field, Jr., for Adolph J. Ackerman; and by Kim Zeitlin for the National Commission for Health Certifying Agencies.

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