The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday March 27th

Duke-UNC anti-trust lawsuit unlikely to be dismissed

The class-action lawsuit — filed August 2015 by Dr. Danielle Seaman, an assistant professor at Duke University School of Medicine — alleges a no-hire agreement between the deans of the Duke and UNC schools of medicine, a violation of antitrust laws.

In October, Duke, Duke Health and Dr. William Roper, dean of UNC School of Medicine, filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit.

At the hearing, the parties involved presented their cases to the judge, Catherine Eagles, whose ruling would determine whether the suit moves forward to the evidence-gathering stage, during which Seaman and her legal team can summon witnesses and collect documents.

Defendants moved to dismiss the case on two grounds. First, they claimed immunity on the basis that UNC acted within its power as a state actor in establishing the alleged no-hire agreement and therefore could not be punished by antitrust laws. Second, defendants claimed there was not enough evidence to proceed with the case.

Barak Richman, a law professor at Duke University, said the defendants are claiming antitrust immunity based on a 1989 district court ruling.

“But the U.S. Supreme Court has issued two major rulings in the past three years that have clarified that immunity,” he said. “This court will have to heed those recent rulings.”

According to an electronic filing from the N.C. Middle District Court, the court is inclined to deny the defendants’ motions to dismiss and asked defendants and Seaman to submit supplementary materials by Feb. 8 and Feb. 10, respectively.

There is no set date for when the judge will issue her decision, but Eagles said during the hearing she is likely to deny immunity — though she may ask the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case, which could derail proceedings for up to two years.

Were she to rule in the defendants’ favor, the case would be over.

During the hearing, Eagles asked what makes an actor like UNC automatically sovereign and not subject to antitrust laws.

Dean Harvey, one of Seaman’s lawyers, said whether the actor is politically accountable, the transparency of the agreement, market participation and statewide policy all factor into sovereignty.

Daniel Crane, professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said if Eagles decides the UNC and Duke schools of medicine entered into an noncompetitive agreement, the case could go to trial — but the timeline for court proceedings is unclear.

“It is up to the court to establish the discovery schedule,” Crane said.

“It depends on the complexity of the case — in the case like this it doesn’t seem hugely complex.”


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