MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari to decide whether consumers who pay a higher price for goods purchased for personal use as a result of antitrust violations sustain an injury in their "business or property" within the meaning of § 4 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 731, 15 U. S. C. § 15.
Petitioner brought a class action on behalf of herself and all persons in the United States who purchased hearing aids manufactured by five corporations, respondents here. Her complaint alleges that respondents have committed a variety of antitrust violations, including vertical and horizontal price fixing.
Respondents moved for dismissal of the complaint or summary judgment in the District Court. Among other things, respondents argued that Reiter, as a retail purchaser of hearing aids for personal use, lacked standing to sue for treble damages under § 4 of the Clayton Act because she had not been injured in her "business or property" within the meaning of the Act.
The District Court held that under § 4 a retail purchaser is injured in "property" if the purchaser can show that antitrust violations caused an increase in the price paid for the article purchased. The District Court relied on Chattanooga Foundry & Pipe Works v. Atlanta, 203 U.S. 390, 396 (1906), and the legislative history of the Clayton Act set forth in Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U.S. 477,
The District Court determined, however, that the respondents had raised a "controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion." id., at 938, and accordingly certified the question for interlocutory review under 28 U. S. C. § 1292 (b). It then stayed further proceedings in the case and declined to express any opinion on the merits of the other issues raised by respondents' motions or on the certifiability of the class.
The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that retail purchasers of consumer goods and services who allege no injury of a commercial or business nature are not injured in their "business or property" within the meaning of § 4. 579 F.2d 1077 (CA8 1978). Noting the absence of any holdings on this precise issue by this Court or other courts of appeals, the court reasoned that the phrase "business or property" was intended to limit standing to those engaged in commercial ventures. It relied on the legislative history and this Court's statement in Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co., 405 U.S. 251, 264 (1972), that "business or property" referred to "commercial interests or enterprises." A contrary holding, the Court of Appeals observed, would add a substantial volume of litigation to the already strained dockets of the federal courts and could be used to exact unfair settlements from retail businesses. Small and medium-sized retailers would be especially hard hit by "gigantic consumer class actions," and granting standing to retail consumers might actually have an anticompetitive impact as a consequence. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals thought "it sensible as a matter of policy and compelled as a matter of law that consumers alleging no injury of a commercial or competitive nature are not injured in their property under section 4 of the Clayton Act." 579 F. 2d. at 1087.
As is true in every case involving the construction of a statute, our starting point must be the language employed by Congress. Section 4 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 731, provides:
On its face, § 4 contains little in the way of restrictive language. In Pfizer Inc. v. Government of India, 434 U.S. 308 (1978), we remarked:
Similarly here, the word "property" has a naturally broad and inclusive meaning. In its dictionary definitions and in common usage "property" comprehends anything of material value owned or possessed. See, e. g., Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1818 (1961). Money, of course, is a form of property.
Respondents protest that, if the reference to "property" in § 4 means "money," the term "business" then becomes superfluous, for every injury in one's business necessarily involves a pecuniary injury. They argue that if Congress wished to permit one who lost only money to bring suit under § 4, it would not have used the restrictive phrase "business or property"; rather, it would have employed more generic language akin to that of § 16, for example, which provides for injunctive relief against any "threatened loss or damage." 15 U. S. C. § 26. Congress plainly intended to exclude some category of injury in choosing the phrase "business or property" for § 4. Only a "commercial interest" gloss, they argue, both gives the phrase the restrictive significance intended for it and at the same time gives independent significance to the word "business" and the word "property." The argument of respondents is straightforward: the phrase "business or property" means "business activity or property related to one's business." Brief for Respondents 11 n. 7.
That strained construction would have us ignore the disjunctive "or" and rob the term "property" of its independent
When a commercial enterprise suffers a loss of money it suffers an injury in both its "business" and its "property." But neither term is rendered redundant by recognizing that a consumer not engaged in a "business" enterprise, but rather acquiring goods or services for personal use, is injured in "property" when the price of those goods or services is artificially inflated by reason of the anticompetitive conduct complained of. The phrase "business or property" also retains restrictive significance. It would, for example, exclude personal injuries suffered. E. g., Hamman v. United States, 267 F.Supp. 420, 432 (Mont. 1967). Congress must have intended to exclude some class of injuries by the phrase "business or property." But it taxes the ordinary meaning of common terms to argue, as respondents do, that a consumer's monetary injury arising directly out of a retail purchase is not comprehended by the natural and usual meaning of the phrase "business or property." We simply give the word "property" the independent significance to which it is entitled in this context. A consumer whose money has been diminished by reason of an antitrust violation has been injured "in his . . . property" within the meaning of § 4.
Indeed, this Court indicated as much in Chattanooga Foundry & Pipe Works v. Atlanta, 203 U.S. 390 (1960). There the city alleged that the anticompetitive conduct of the defendants
The holding of Chattanooga Foundry could well have been grounded on the undisputed fact that the city was engaged in the commercial enterprise of supplying water for a charge and, therefore, engaged in a business. It was not uncommon for both municipalities and private companies to own and operate competing waterworks at the turn of the century. In operating a municipal public utility, the city was in a real sense engaged in the "business of furnishing water" when it purchased the pipe to carry water from the city's reservoirs to its customers. Ibid.
Yet, the Court's holding in Chattanooga Foundry was deliberately grounded on the premise that the city had been injured in its "property"—independent of any injury it had sustained in its "business of furnishing water"—because the defendants' antitrust violation caused it to pay a higher price for the pipe than it otherwise would have paid. Ibid. Chattanooga Foundry therefore establishes that monetary injury, standing alone, may be injury in one's "property" within the meaning of § 4. Thus, the fact that petitioner Reiter was deprived of only money, albeit a modest amount, is no reason to conclude that she did not sustain a "property" injury.
Nor does her status as a "consumer" change the nature of
Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co., 405 U.S. 251 (1972), is not to the contrary. There we held that injury to a state's total economy, for which the state sought redress in its parens patriae capacity, was not cognizable under § 4. It is true we noted that the words "business or property" refer to "commercial interests or enterprises," and reasoned that Hawaii could not recover on its claim for damage done to its "general economy" because such injury did not harm Hawaii's "commercial interests." 405 U. S., at 264.
However, the language of an opinion is not always to be parsed as though we were dealing with language of a statute. Use of the phrase "commercial interests or enterprises," read in context, in no sense suggests that only injuries to a business entity are within the ambit of § 4. Respondents ignore the Court's careful use of the disjunctive and the naturally broad meaning of the term "interests" in Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co., supra. The phrase "commercial interests" was used there as a generic reference to the interests of the
Consumers in the United States purchase at retail more than $1.2 trillion in goods and services annually. 1978 Economic Report of the President 257 (Table B-1). It is in the sound commercial interests of the retail purchasers of goods and services to obtain the lowest price possible within the framework of our competitive private enterprise system. The essence of the antitrust laws is to ensure fair price competition in an open market. Here, where petitioner alleges a wrongful deprivation of her money because the price of the hearing aid she bought was artificially inflated by reason of respondents' anticompetitive conduct, she has alleged an injury in her "property" under § 4.
Nothing in the legislative history of § 4 conflicts with our holding today. Many courts and commentators have observed that the respective legislative histories of § 4 of the Clayton Act and § 7 of the Sherman Act, its predecessor, shed no light on Congress' original understanding of the terms "business or property."
In Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., supra, after examining the legislative history of § 4, we described the Sherman Act as "conceived of primarily as a remedy for `[t]he people of the United States as individuals,' especially consumers," and the treble-damages provision of the Clayton Act as "conceived primarily as `open[ing] the door of justice
Respondents also argue that allowing class actions to be brought by retail consumers like the petitioner here will add a significant burden to the already crowded dockets of the federal courts. That may well be true but cannot be a controlling consideration here. We must take the statute as we find it. Congress created the treble-damages remedy of § 4 precisely for the purpose of encouraging private challenges to antitrust violations. These private suits provide a significant supplement to the limited resources available to the Department of Justice for enforcing the antitrust laws and deterring violations. Indeed, nearly 20 times as many private antitrust actions are currently pending in the federal courts as actions filed by the Department of Justice. Administrative Office of the United States Courts Ann. Rep. 101, Table 28 (1978). To be sure, these private suits impose a heavy litigation burden on the federal courts; it is the clear responsibility of Congress to provide the judicial resources necessary to execute its mandates.
Finally, respondents argue that the cost of defending consumer class actions will have a potentially ruinous effect on small businesses in particular and will ultimately be paid by
District courts must be especially alert to identify frivolous claims brought to extort nuisance settlements; they have broad power and discretion vested in them by Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23 with respect to matters involving the certification and management of potentially cumbersome or frivolous class actions. See generally Durham & Dibble, Certification: A Practical Device for Early Screening of Spurious Antitrust Litigation, 1978 B. Y. U. L. Rev. 299. Recognition of the plain meaning of the statutory language "business or property" need not result in administrative chaos, class-action harassment, or "windfall" settlements if the district courts exercise sound discretion and use the tools available.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN took no part in the decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion and write separately only to point out that the concern expressed by the Court of Appeals that an interpretation of "business or property" in the manner in which the Court interprets it today would "add a substantial volume of litigation to the already strained dockets of the federal courts and could be used to exact unfair settlements from retail businesses," ante, at 336, is by no means an unfounded one. And pronouncements from this Court exhorting district courts to be "especially alert to identify frivolous