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BLUE SHIELD VIRGINIA ET AL. v. MCCREADY

decided: June 21, 1982.

BLUE SHIELD OF VIRGINIA ET AL
v.
MCCREADY



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT.

Brennan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Marshall, Blackmun, and Powell, JJ., joined. Rehnquist, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Burger, C. J., and O'connor, J., joined, post, p. 485. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 492.

Author: Brennan

[ 457 U.S. Page 467]

 JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The antitrust complaint at issue in this case alleges that a group health plan's practice of refusing to reimburse subscribers for psychotherapy performed by psychologists, while providing reimbursement for comparable treatment by psychiatrists, was in furtherance of an unlawful conspiracy to restrain competition in the psychotherapy market. The question presented is whether a subscriber who employed the services of a psychologist has standing to maintain an action under § 4 of the Clayton Act based upon the plan's failure to provide reimbursement for the costs of that treatment.

I

From September 1975 until January 1978, respondent Carol McCready was an employee of Prince William County,

[ 457 U.S. Page 468]

     Va. As part of her compensation, the county provided her with coverage under a prepaid group health plan purchased from petitioner Blue Shield of Virginia (Blue Shield).*fn1 The plan specifically provided reimbursement for a portion of the cost incurred by subscribers with respect to outpatient treatment for mental and nervous disorders, including psychotherapy. Pursuant to this provision, Blue Shield reimbursed subscribers for psychotherapy provided by psychiatrists. But Blue Shield did not provide reimbursement for the services of psychologists unless the treatment was supervised by and billed through a physician.*fn2 While a subscriber to the plan, McCready was treated by a clinical psychologist. She submitted claims to Blue Shield for the costs of that treatment, but those claims were routinely denied because they had not been billed through a physician.*fn3

In 1978, McCready brought this class action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, on behalf of all Blue Shield subscribers who had incurred costs

[ 457 U.S. Page 469]

     for psychological services since 1973 but who had not been reimbursed.*fn4 The complaint alleged that Blue Shield and petitioner Neuropsychiatric Society of Virginia, Inc., had engaged in an unlawful conspiracy in violation of § 1 of the

[ 457 U.S. Page 470]

     Sherman Act, 26 Stat. 209, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 1,*fn5 "to exclude and boycott clinical psychologists from receiving compensation under" the Blue Shield plans. App. 55. McCready further alleged that Blue Shield's failure to reimburse had been in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy, and had caused injury to her business or property for which she was entitled to treble damages and attorney's fees under § 4 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 731, 15 U. S. C. § 15.*fn6

The District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss, holding that McCready had no standing under § 4 to maintain her suit.*fn7 In the District Court's view, McCready's standing to maintain a § 4 action turned on whether she had suffered injury "within the sector of the economy competitively endangered by the defendants' alleged violations of the antitrust laws." App. 17. Noting that the goal of the alleged boycott was to exclude clinical psychologists from a segment of the psychotherapy market, the court concluded that the "sector of the economy competitively endangered" by the charged violation extended "no further than that area occupied by the psychologists." Id., at 18 (emphasis in original). Thus, while McCready clearly had suffered an injury by

[ 457 U.S. Page 471]

     being denied reimbursement, this injury was "too indirect and remote to be considered 'antitrust injury.'" Ibid.

A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that McCready had alleged an injury within the meaning of § 4 of the Clayton Act and had standing to maintain the suit. 649 F.2d 228 (1981). The court recognized that the goal of the alleged conspiracy was the exclusion of clinical psychologists from some segment of the psychotherapy market. But it held that the § 4 remedy was available to any person "whose property loss is directly or proximately caused by" a violation of the antitrust laws, and that McCready's loss was not "too remote or indirect to be covered by the Act." Id., at 231.*fn8 The court thus

[ 457 U.S. Page 472]

     remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings. We granted certiorari. 454 U.S. 962 (1981).

II

Section 4 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 731, provides a treble-damages remedy to "[any] person who shall be injured in his business or property by reason of anything forbidden in the antitrust laws," 15 U. S. C. § 15 (emphasis added). As we noted in Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330, 337 (1979), "[on] its face, § 4 contains little in the way of restrictive language." And the lack of restrictive language reflects Congress' "expansive remedial purpose" in enacting § 4: Congress sought to create a private enforcement mechanism that would deter violators and deprive them of the fruits of their illegal actions, and would provide ample compensation to the victims of antitrust violations. Pfizer Inc. v. India, 434 U.S. 308, 313-314 (1978). See Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U.S. 477, 485-486, and n. 10, (1977); Perma Mufflers, Inc. v. International Parts Corp., 392 U.S. 134, 139 (1968); American Society of Mechanical Engineers v. Hydrolevel Corp., 456 U.S. 556, 572-573, and n. 10 (1982). As we have recognized, "[the] statute does not confine its protection to consumers, or to purchasers, or to competitors, or to sellers. . . . The Act is comprehensive in its terms and coverage, protecting all who are made victims of the forbidden practices by whomever they may be perpetrated." Mandeville Island Farms, Inc. v. American Crystal Sugar Co., 334 U.S. 219, 236 (1948).

Consistent with the congressional purpose, we have refused to engraft artificial limitations on the § 4 remedy.*fn9

[ 457 U.S. Page 473]

     Two recent cases illustrate the point. Pfizer Inc. v. India, supra, afforded the statutory phrase "any person" its "naturally broad and inclusive meaning," id., at 312, and held that it extends even to an action brought by a foreign sovereign. Similarly, Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., supra, rejected the argument that the § 4 remedy is available only to redress injury to commercial interests. In that case we afforded the statutory term "property" its "naturally broad and inclusive meaning," and held that a consumer has standing to seek a § 4 remedy reflecting the increase in the purchase price of goods that was attributable to a price-fixing conspiracy. 442 U.S., at 338. In sum, in the absence of some articulable consideration of statutory policy suggesting a contrary conclusion in a particular factual setting, we have applied § 4 in accordance with its plain language and its broad remedial and deterrent objectives. But drawing on statutory policy, our cases have acknowledged two types of limitation on the availability of the § 4 remedy to particular classes of persons and for redress of particular forms of injury. We treat these limitations in turn.*fn10

A

In Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co., 405 U.S. 251 (1972), we held that § 4 did not authorize a State to sue in its parens patriae capacity for damages to its "general economy." Noting

[ 457 U.S. Page 474]

     that a "large and ultimately indeterminable part of the injury to the 'general economy' . . . is no more than a reflection of injuries to the 'business or property' of consumers, for which they may recover themselves under § 4," we concluded that "[even] the most lengthy and expensive trial could not . . . cope with the problems of double recovery inherent in allowing damages" for injury to the State's quasi-sovereign interests. Id., at 264. See Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., supra, at 342.

In Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720 (1977), similar concerns prevailed. Hanover Shoe, Inc. v. United Shoe Machinery Corp., 392 U.S. 481 (1968), had held that an antitrust defendant could not relieve itself of its obligation to pay damages resulting from overcharges to a direct-purchaser plaintiff by showing that the plaintiff had passed the amount of the overcharge on to its own customers. Illinois Brick was an action by an indirect purchaser claiming damages from the antitrust violator measured by the amount that had been passed on to it. Relying in part on Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co., supra, the Court found unacceptable the risk of duplicative recovery engendered by allowing both direct and indirect purchasers to claim damages resulting from a single overcharge by the antitrust defendant. Illinois Brick, supra, at 730-731. The Court found that the splintered recoveries and litigative burdens that would result from a rule requiring that the impact of an overcharge be apportioned between direct and indirect purchasers could undermine the active enforcement of the antitrust laws by private actions. 431 U.S., 745-747. The Court concluded that direct purchasers rather than indirect purchasers were the injured parties who as a group were most likely to press their claims with the vigor that the § 4 treble-damages remedy was intended to promote. Id., at 735.

The policies identified in Hawaii and Illinois Brick plainly offer no support for petitioners here. Both cases focused on the risk of duplicative recovery engendered by allowing

[ 457 U.S. Page 475]

     every person along a chain of distribution to claim damages arising from a single transaction that violated the antitrust laws. But permitting respondent to proceed in the circumstances of this case offers not the slightest possibility of a duplicative exaction from petitioners. McCready has paid her psychologist's bills; her injury consists of Blue Shield's failure to pay her. Her psychologist can link no claim of injury to himself arising from his treatment of McCready; he has been fully paid for his service and has not been injured by Blue Shield's refusal to reimburse her for the cost of his services. And whatever the adverse effect of Blue Shield's actions on McCready's ...


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