By: Carl F. Barnes
The Federal Trade Commission announced recently that the maximum civil penalty for violations of the premerger notification requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 have increased from $16,000 to $40,000 per day. The increase was effective this past Monday, August 1, 2016, but will also apply to violations occurring prior to that date. The full text of the revised rules was published in the Federal Register on June 30.
The FTC last increased the maximum civil penalty in 2009, from $11,000 per day to $16,000 per day. The present increase is the result of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, which directs federal agencies to implement a “catch-up” inflation adjustment based on a prescribed formula. Starting in January 2017, the FTC will increase its maximum civil penalties annually, just as it adjusts HSR filing thresholds.
A premerger notification gives the FTC and the Department of Justice, which share jurisdiction over HSR, the ability to review a transaction for anti-competitive effects and determine whether to seek injunctive or other relief before it closes. Recent enforcement actions are good reminders of a few fundamental facts:
- Every day of noncompliance with HSR is a separate violation, so fines can mount extraordinarily quickly.
- “Premerger,” though that’s the word used in the title of the Act, is really a misnomer: HSR obviously applies to mergers and acquisitions of entire companies (if the filing thresholds are met), but it also applies to some transfers of assets (including patents and real estate), to some minority investments, and to certain licenses, leases and other transactions that don’t look like mergers at all.
- Finally, the Act and the rules implementing it are highly technical and complex. Although the FTC has a long-standing practice of being lenient on first-time, inadvertent offenders, everyone involved in the purchase, sale or other transfers of business assets or equity interests should pay careful attention to the potential application of HSR and consult with skilled counsel. Now more than ever.
For more information, please contact Carl F. Barnes.