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INTERSTATE CIRCUIT v. UNITED STATES *FN*

decided: February 13, 1939.

INTERSTATE CIRCUIT, INC., ET AL
v.
UNITED STATES*FN*



APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS.

Hughes, McReynolds, Brandeis, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed; Frankfurter took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Stone

[ 306 U.S. Page 213]

 MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is here on appeal under § 2 of the Act of February 11, 1903, 32 Stat. 823, 15 U. S. C. § 29, and § 238 of the Judicial Code, as amended by the Act of February 13, 1925, 43 Stat. 936, 938, 28 U. S. C. § 345, from a final decree of the District Court for northern Texas restraining appellants from continuing in a combination and conspiracy condemned by the court as a violation of § 1 of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 26 Stat. 209, 15 U. S. C. § 1, and from enforcing or renewing certain contracts found by the court to have been entered into in pursuance of the conspiracy. 20 F.Supp. 868. Upon a previous appeal this Court set aside the decree and remanded the cause to the District Court for further proceedings because of its failure to state findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Equity Rule 70 1/2. 304 U.S. 55. The case is

[ 306 U.S. Page 214]

     now before us on findings of the District Court specifically stating that appellants did in fact agree with each other to enter into and carry out the contracts, which the court found to result in unreasonable and therefore unlawful restraints of interstate commerce.

Appellants comprise the two groups of defendants in the District Court. The members of one group of eight corporations which are distributors of motion picture films, and the Texas agents of two of them, are appellants in No. 270. The other group, corporations and individuals engaged in exhibiting motion pictures in Texas, and some of them in New Mexico, appeals in No. 269. The distributor appellants are engaged in the business of distributing in interstate commerce motion picture films, copyrights on which they own or control, for exhibition in theatres throughout the United States. They distribute about 75 per cent. of all first-class feature films exhibited in the United States. They solicit from motion picture theatre owners and managers in Texas and other states applications for licenses to exhibit films, and forward the applications, when received from such exhibitors, to their respective New York offices, where they are accepted or rejected. If the applications are accepted, the distributors ship the films from points outside the states of exhibition to their exchanges within those states, from which, pursuant to the license agreements, the films are delivered to the local theatres for exhibition. After exhibition the films are reshipped to the distributors at points outside the state.

The exhibitor group of appellants consists of Interstate Circuit, Inc., and Texas Consolidated Theatres, Inc., and Hoblitzelle and O'Donnell, who are respectively president and general manager of both and in active charge of their business operations. The two corporations are affiliated with each other and with Paramount Pictures Distributing Co., Inc., one of the distributor appellants.

[ 306 U.S. Page 215]

     Interstate operates forty-three first-run and second-run motion picture theatres, located in six Texas cities.*fn1 It has a complete monopoly of first-run theatres in these cities, except for one in Houston operated by one distributor's Texas agent. In most of these theatres the admission price for adults for the better seats at night is 40 cents or more. Interstate also operates several subsequent-run theatres in each of these cities, twenty-two in all, but in all but Galveston there are other subsequent-run theatres which compete with both its first- and subsequent-run theatres in those cities.

Texas Consolidated operates sixty-six theatres, some first- and some subsequent-run houses, in various cities and towns in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere in Texas and in New Mexico. In some of these cities there are no competing theatres, and in six leading cities there are no competing first-run theatres. It has no theatres in the six Texas cities in which Interstate operates. That Interstate and Texas Consolidated dominate the motion picture business in the cities where their theatres are located is indicated by the fact that at the time of the contracts in question Interstate and Consolidated each contributed more than 74 per cent. of all the license fees paid by the motion picture theatres in their respective territories to the distributor appellants.*fn2

On July 11, 1934, following a previous communication on the subject to the eight branch managers of the distributor

[ 306 U.S. Page 216]

     appellants, O'Donnell, the manager of Interstate and Consolidated, sent to each of them a letter*fn3 on the letterhead of Interstate, each letter naming all of them as addressees, in which he asked compliance with two demands as a condition of Interstate's continued exhibition of the distributors' films in its 'A' or first-run theatres

[ 306 U.S. Page 217]

     at a night admission of 40 cents or more.*fn4 One demand was that the distributors "agree that in selling their product to subsequent runs, that this 'A' product will never be exhibited at any time or in any theatre at a smaller admission price than 25 cents for adults in the evening." The other was that "on 'A' pictures which are exhibited at a night admission of 40 cents or more -- they shall never be exhibited in conjunction with another feature picture under the so-called policy of double features." The letter added that with respect to the "Rio Grande Valley situation," with which Consolidated alone was concerned, "We must insist that all pictures exhibited in our 'A' theatres at a maximum night admission price of 35 cents must also be restricted to subsequent runs in the Valley at 25 cents."

The admission price customarily charged for preferred seats at night in independently operated subsequent-run theatres in Texas at the time of these letters was less than 25 cents. In seventeen of the eighteen independent theatres of this kind whose operations were described by witnesses the admission price was less than 25 cents. In one only was it 25 cents. In most of them the admission was 15 cents or less. It was also the general practice

[ 306 U.S. Page 218]

     in those theatres to provide double bills either on certain days of the week or with any feature picture which was weak in drawing power. The distributor appellants had generally provided in their license contracts for a minimum admission price of 10 or 15 cents, and three of them had included provisions restricting double-billing. But none was at any time previously subject to contractual compulsion to continue the restrictions. The trial court found that the proposed restrictions constituted an important departure from prior practice.

The local representatives of the distributors, having no authority to enter into the proposed agreements, communicated the proposal to their home offices. Conferences followed between Hoblitzelle and O'Donnell, acting for Interstate and Consolidated, and the representatives of the various distributors. In these conferences each distributor was represented by its local branch manager and by one or more superior officials from outside the state of Texas. In the course of them each distributor agreed with Interstate for the 1934-35 season to impose both the demanded restrictions upon their subsequent-run licensees in the six Texas cities served by Interstate, except Austin and Galveston. While only two of the distributors incorporated the agreement to impose the restrictions in their license contracts with Interstate, the evidence establishes, and it is not denied, that all joined in the agreement, four of them after some delay in negotiating terms other than the restrictions and not now material. These agreements for the restrictions -- with the immaterial exceptions noted*fn5 -- were carried into effect by each of the distributors'

[ 306 U.S. Page 219]

     imposing them on their subsequent-run licensees in the four Texas cities during the 1934-35 season. One agreement, that of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corporation, was for three years. The others were renewed in the two following seasons and all were in force when the present suit was begun.

None of the distributors yielded to the demand that subsequent runs in towns in the Rio Grande Valley served by Consolidated should be restricted. One distributor, Paramount, which was affiliated with Consolidated, agreed to impose the restrictions in certain other Texas and New Mexico cities.

The trial court found that the distributor appellants agreed and conspired among themselves to take uniform action upon the proposals made by Interstate, and that they agreed and conspired with each other and with Interstate to impose the demanded restrictions upon all subsequent-run exhibitors in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio; that they carried out the agreement by imposing the restrictions upon their subsequent-run licensees in those cities, causing some of them to increase their admission price to 25 cents, either generally or when restricted pictures were shown, and to abandon double-billing of all such pictures, and causing the other subsequent-run exhibitors, who were either unable or unwilling to accept the restrictions, to be deprived of any opportunity to exhibit the restricted pictures, which were the best and most popular of all new feature pictures; that the effect of the restrictions upon "low-income members of the community" patronizing the theatres of these exhibitors was to withhold from them altogether the "best entertainment furnished by the motion picture industry"; and that the restrictions operated to increase the income of the distributors and of Interstate and to deflect attendance from later-run exhibitors who yielded to the restrictions to the first-run theatres of Interstate.

[ 306 U.S. Page 220]

     The court concluded as matters of law that the agreement of the distributors with each other and those with Interstate to impose the restrictions upon subsequent-run exhibitors and the carrying of the agreements into effect, with the aid and participation of Hoblitzelle and O'Donnell, constituted a combination and conspiracy in restraint of interstate commerce in violation of the Sherman Act. It also concluded that each separate agreement between Interstate and a distributor that Interstate should subject itself to the restrictions in its subsequent-run theatres and that the distributors should impose the restrictions on all subsequent-run theatres in the Texas cities as a condition of supplying them with its feature pictures, was likewise a violation of the Act.

It accordingly enjoined the conspiracy and restrained the distributors from enforcing the restrictions in their license agreements with subsequent-run exhibitors*fn6 and from enforcing the contracts or any of them. This included both the contracts of Interstate with the distributors and the contract between Consolidated and Paramount, whereby the latter agreed to impose the restrictions upon subsequent-run theatres in Texas and New Mexico served by it.

Appellants assail the decree of the District Court upon three principal grounds: (a) that the finding of agreement and conspiracy among the distributor appellants to impose the restrictions upon later-run exhibitors is not supported by the court's subsidiary findings or by the evidence; (b) that the several separate contracts entered into by Interstate with the distributors are within the protection of the Copyright Act and consequently

[ 306 U.S. Page 221]

     are not violations of the Sherman Act; and (c) that the restrictions do not unreasonably restrain interstate commerce ...


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