Opinion of the Court by MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, announced by MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER.
This is a civil suit under § 4 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 731, 15 U. S. C. § 15, for injunctive relief and damages instituted by respondents, who are highway carriers operating in California, against petitioners, who are also highway carriers operating within, into, and from California. Respondents and petitioners are, in other words, competitors. The charge is that the petitioners conspired to monopolize trade and commerce in the transportation of goods in violation of the antitrust laws. The conspiracy alleged is a concerted action by petitioners to institute state and federal proceedings to resist and defeat applications by respondents to acquire operating rights or to transfer or register those rights. These activities, it is alleged, extend to rehearings and to reviews or appeals from agency or court decisions on these matters.
The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, 1967 Trade Cas. ¶ 72,298. The Court of Appeals reversed, 432 F.2d 755. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari, which we granted. 402 U.S. 1008.
The present case is akin to Eastern Railroad Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight, 365 U.S. 127, where a group of trucking companies sued a group of railroads to restrain them from an alleged conspiracy to monopolize
We followed that view in United Mine Workers v. Pennington, 381 U.S. 657, 669-671.
The same philosophy governs the approach of citizens or groups of them to administrative agencies (which are both creatures of the legislature, and arms of the executive) and to courts, the third branch of Government. Certainly the right to petition extends to all departments of the Government. The right of access to the courts is indeed but one aspect of the right of petition. See Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 485; Ex parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546, 549.
We conclude that it would be destructive of rights of association and of petition to hold that groups with
We said, however, in Noerr that there may be instances where the alleged conspiracy "is a mere sham to cover what is actually nothing more than an attempt to interfere directly with the business relationships of a competitor and the application of the Sherman Act would be justified." 365 U. S., at 144.
In that connection the complaint in the present case alleged that the aim and purpose of the conspiracy was "putting their competitors, including plaintiff, out of business, of weakening such competitors, of destroying, eliminating and weakening existing and potential competition, and of monopolizing the highway common carriage business in California and elsewhere."
More critical are other allegations, which are too lengthy to quote, and which elaborate on the "sham" theory by stating that the power, strategy, and resources of the petitioners were used to harass and deter respondents in their use of administrative and judicial proceedings so as to deny them "free and unlimited access" to those tribunals. The result, it is alleged, was that the machinery of the agencies and the courts was effectively closed to respondents, and petitioners indeed became "the regulators of the grants of rights, transfers and registrations" to respondents—thereby depleting and diminishing the value of the businesses of respondents and aggrandizing petitioners' economic and monopoly power. See Note, 57 Calif. L. Rev. 518 (1969).
Petitioners rely on our statement in Pennington that "Noerr shields from the Sherman Act a concerted effort to influence public officials regardless of intent or purpose." 381 U. S., at 670. In the present case, however,
The political campaign operated by the railroads in Noerr to obtain legislation crippling truckers employed deception and misrepresentation and unethical tactics. We said:
Yet unethical conduct in the setting of the adjudicatory process often results in sanctions. Perjury of witnesses is one example. Use of a patent obtained by fraud to exclude a competitor from the market may involve a violation of the antitrust laws, as we held in Walker
There are many other forms of illegal and reprehensible practice which may corrupt the administrative or judicial processes and which may result in antitrust violations. Misrepresentations, condoned in the political arena, are not immunized when used in the adjudicatory process. Opponents before agencies or courts often think poorly of the other's tactics, motions, or defenses and may readily call them baseless. One claim, which a court or agency may think baseless, may go unnoticed; but a pattern of baseless, repetitive claims may emerge which leads the factfinder to conclude that the administrative and judicial processes have been abused. That may be a difficult line to discern and draw. But once it is drawn, the case is established that abuse of those processes produced an illegal result, viz., effectively barring respondents from access to the agencies and courts. Insofar as the administrative or judicial processes are involved, actions of that kind cannot acquire immunity by seeking refuge under the umbrella of "political expression."
Petitioners, of course, have the right of access to the agencies and courts to be heard on applications sought by competitive highway carriers. That right, as indicated, is part of the right of petition protected by the First Amendment. Yet that does not necessarily give them immunity from the antitrust laws.
In Associated Press v. United States, 326 U.S. 1, we held that the Associated Press was not immune from the antitrust laws by reason of the fact that the press is under the shelter of the First Amendment. We said:
The rationale of those cases, when applied to the instant controversy, makes the following conclusions clear: (1) that any carrier has the right of access to agencies and courts, within the limits, of course, of their prescribed procedures, in order to defeat applications of its competitors for certificates as highway carriers; and (2) that its purpose to eliminate an applicant as a competitor by denying him free and meaningful access to the agencies and courts may be implicit in that opposition.
First Amendment rights may not be used as the means or the pretext for achieving "substantive evils" (see NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 444) which the legislature has the power to control. Certainly the constitutionality of the antitrust laws is not open to debate. A combination of entrepreneurs to harass and deter their competitors from having "free and unlimited access" to the agencies and courts, to defeat that right by massive, concerted, and purposeful activities of the group are ways of building up one empire and destroying another. As stated in the opinion concurring in the judgment, that is the essence of those parts of the complaint to which we refer. If these facts are proved, a violation of the antitrust laws has been established. If the end result is unlawful, it matters not that the means used in violation may be lawful.
What the proof will show is not known, for the District Court granted the motion to dismiss the complaint. We must, of course, take the allegations of the complaint at face value for the purposes of that motion. Walker
Accordingly we affirm the Court of Appeals and remand the case for trial.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN joins, concurring in the judgment.
In the Noerr case
In Noerr the defendants were joined together in an effort to induce legislative and executive action. Here,
The Court concedes that the petitioners' "right of access to the agencies and courts to be heard on applications sought by competitive highway carriers . . . is part of the right of petition protected by the First Amendment." Yet, says the Court, their joint agreement to exercise that right "does not necessarily give them immunity from the antitrust laws." Ante, at 513. It is difficult to imagine a statement more totally at odds with Noerr. For what that case explicitly held is that the joint exercise of the constitutional right of petition is given immunity from the antitrust laws.
While disagreeing with the Court's opinion, I would
Under these allegations, liberally construed, the respondents are entitled to prove that the real intent of the conspirators was not to invoke the processes of the administrative agencies and courts, but to discourage and ultimately to prevent the respondents from invoking those processes. Such an intent would make the conspiracy "an attempt to interfere directly with the business relationships of a competitor and the application of the Sherman Act would be justified." Eastern Railroad Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight, 365 U. S., at 144.
It is only on this basis that I concur in the judgment of the Court.