JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
From 1998 until 2002, petitioners Texaco Inc. and Shell Oil Co. collaborated in a joint venture, Equilon Enterprises, to refine and sell gasoline in the western United States under the original Texaco and Shell Oil brand names. Respondents, a class of Texaco and Shell Oil service station owners, allege that petitioners engaged in unlawful price fixing when Equilon set a single price for both Texaco and Shell Oil brand gasoline. We granted certiorari to determine whether it is per se illegal under § 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U. S. C. § 1, for a lawful, economically integrated joint venture to set the prices at which the joint venture sells its products. We conclude that it is not, and accordingly we reverse the contrary judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Historically, Texaco and Shell Oil have competed with one another in the national and international oil and gasoline
In 1998, Texaco and Shell Oil formed a joint venture, Equilon, to consolidate their operations in the western United States, thereby ending competition between the two companies in the domestic refining and marketing of gasoline. Under the joint venture agreement, Texaco and Shell Oil agreed to pool their resources and share the risks of and profits from Equilon's activities. Equilon's board of directors would comprise representatives of Texaco and Shell Oil, and Equilon gasoline would be sold to downstream purchasers under the original Texaco and Shell Oil brand names. The formation of Equilon was approved by consent decree, subject to certain divestments and other modifications, by the Federal Trade Commission, see In re Shell Oil Co., 125 F. T. C. 769 (1998), as well as by the state attorneys general of California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. Notably, the decrees imposed no restrictions on the pricing of Equilon gasoline.
After the joint venture began to operate, respondents brought suit in District Court, alleging that, by unifying gasoline prices under the two brands, petitioners had violated the per se rule against price fixing that this Court has long recognized under § 1 of the Sherman Act, ch. 647, 26 Stat. 209, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 1. See, e. g., Catalano, Inc. v. Target Sales, Inc., 446 U.S. 643, 647 (1980) (per curiam). The District Court awarded summary judgment to Texaco and Shell Oil. It determined that the rule of reason, rather than a per se rule or the quick look doctrine, governs respondents' claim, and that, by eschewing rule of reason analysis, respondents had failed to raise a triable issue of fact. The Ninth Circuit reversed, characterizing petitioners' position as a request for an "exception to the per se prohibition on price-fixing," and rejecting that request. Dagher v.
Section 1 of the Sherman Act prohibits "[e]very contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States." 15 U. S. C. § 1. This Court has not taken a literal approach to this language, however. See, e. g., State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522 U.S. 3, 10 (1997) ("[T]his Court has long recognized that Congress intended to outlaw only unreasonable restraints" (emphasis added)). Instead, this Court presumptively applies rule of reason analysis, under which antitrust plaintiffs must demonstrate that a particular contract or combination is in fact unreasonable and anticompetitive before it will be found unlawful. See, e. g., id., at 10-19. Per se liability is reserved for only those agreements that are "so plainly anti-competitive that no elaborate study of the industry is needed to establish their illegality." National Soc. of Professional Engineers v. United States, 435 U.S. 679, 692 (1978). Accordingly, "we have expressed reluctance to adopt per se rules ... `where the economic impact of certain practices is not immediately obvious.'" State Oil, supra, at 10 (quoting FTC v. Indiana Federation of Dentists, 476 U.S. 447, 458-459 (1986)).
Price-fixing agreements between two or more competitors, otherwise known as horizontal price-fixing agreements, fall into the category of arrangements that are per se unlawful. See, e. g., Catalano, supra, at 647. These cases do not present such an agreement, however, because Texaco and Shell Oil did not compete with one another in the relevant market—namely, the sale of gasoline to service stations in the western United States—but instead participated in that
This conclusion is confirmed by respondents' apparent concession that there would be no per se liability had Equilon simply chosen to sell its gasoline under a single brand. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 34. We see no reason to treat Equilon differently just because it chose to sell gasoline under two distinct
The court below reached the opposite conclusion by invoking the ancillary restraints doctrine. 369 F. 3d, at 1118-1124. That doctrine governs the validity of restrictions imposed by a legitimate business collaboration, such as a business association or joint venture, on nonventure activities. See, e. g., National Collegiate Athletic Assn. v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla., 468 U.S. 85, 113-115 (1984); Citizen Publishing Co. v. United States, 394 U.S. 131, 135-136 (1969). Under the doctrine, courts must determine whether the nonventure restriction is a naked restraint on trade, and thus invalid, or one that is ancillary to the legitimate and competitive purposes of the business association, and thus valid. We agree with petitioners that the ancillary restraints doctrine has no application here, where the business practice being challenged involves the core activity of the joint venture itself—namely, the pricing of the very
See also Broadcast Music, supra, at 23 ("Joint ventures and other cooperative arrangements are ... not usually unlawful, at least not as price-fixing schemes, where the agreement on price is necessary to market the product at all").
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Because the pricing decisions of a legitimate joint venture do not fall within the narrow category of activity that is per se unlawful under § 1 of the Sherman Act, respondents' anti-trust claim cannot prevail. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE ALITO took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.
Stephen F. Ross filed a brief for the American Antitrust Institute as amicus curiae urging affirmance in both cases.
Briefs of amici curiae were filed in both cases for the Northwest Ohio Physician Specialists Cooperative, LLC, by Charles D. Weller and Frederick Byers; and for the Retail Industry Leaders Association et al. by Lloyd Constantine and Michelle A. Peters. Steve C. Vaughn filed a brief for the Parker Hannifin Corp. as amicus curiae in No. 04-805.