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RICCI v. CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE ET AL.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: January 9, 1973.

RICCI
v.
CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT.

White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, Blackmun, and Rehnquist, JJ., joined. Burger, C. J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 308. Douglas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 308. Marshall, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Douglas, Stewart, and Powell, JJ., joined, post, p. 309.

Author: White

[ 409 U.S. Page 290]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us is whether in this antitrust case the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit properly stayed further judicial action pending administrative proceedings which the court deemed available under the Commodity Exchange Act, 42 Stat. 998, as amended, 7 U. S. C. § 1 et seq.

The case began when petitioner Ricci filed a complaint against the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, its president, vice president, and chairman of the board, and against the Siegel Trading Company, a member of the Exchange, and its president, charging a conspiracy in violation of the Sherman Act, 26 Stat. 209, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 1. The complaint alleged that Ricci had purchased a membership in the Exchange in 1967, using funds borrowed from the Trading Company, and that in February 1969 the Exchange, at the instance of the Trading Company, transferred the membership to another, without notice and hearing, utilizing a blank transfer authorization that had previously been revoked.*fn1 Allegedly,

[ 409 U.S. Page 291]

     this course of conduct violated both the rules of the Exchange and the Commodity Exchange Act and was pursuant to an unlawful conspiracy aimed at restraining the conduct of Ricci's business. The result was, the complaint asserted, that Ricci was excluded from trading on the Exchange from February 11, 1969, until March 4, 1969, when he purchased another membership at a considerably higher price than the transferred membership had previously cost.

On motion of respondents, the District Court dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals reversed that judgment; but because the challenged conduct was deemed subject to the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary) or the Commodity Exchange Commission (Commission) by virtue of the provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act, the District Court was directed to stay further proceedings to permit administrative action to take place. 447 F.2d 713 (CA7 1971). We granted certiorari, 405 U.S. 953 (1972), and now affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

I

The Commodity Exchange Act,*fn2 first passed in 1922 and from time to time amended -- the most recent substantial

[ 409 U.S. Page 292]

     amendments being in 1968 -- makes dealing in commodity futures a crime except when undertaken by or through members of a board of trade that meets certain statutory criteria and that is designated as a "contract market" by the Secretary. 7 U. S. C. §§ 6 and 6h.*fn3 Contract markets must file with the Secretary

[ 409 U.S. Page 293]

     their bylaws, rules, and regulations, and have the express statutory duty to enforce all such prescriptions (1) "which relate to terms and conditions in

[ 409 U.S. Page 294]

     contracts of sale . . . or relate to other trading requirements, and which have not been disapproved by the Secretary of Agriculture pursuant to" his statutory authority, id., § 7a (8),*fn4 or (2) "which provide minimum financial

[ 409 U.S. Page 295]

     standards and related reporting requirements for futures commission merchants who are members of such contract market, and which have been approved by the Secretary of Agriculture," id., § 7a (9).*fn5 If any contract market is not enforcing its rules of government made a condition of its designation, or if it is violating any provision of the Act, the Commission, an official agency established by the Act,*fn6 is authorized, upon notice and hearing and subject to judicial review, to suspend or revoke the designation of the board of trade as a contract market, id., § 8 (a),*fn7 or may

[ 409 U.S. Page 296]

     order such contract market and any director, officer, agent, or employee to cease and desist from such conduct, id., § 13a.*fn8 Under the relevant regulations, any interested

[ 409 U.S. Page 297]

     person having information concerning such violation may request the Commission to institute proceedings, or the Commission may initiate proceedings on its own motion,*fn9 and there is provision for persons seeking intervention in such proceedings.*fn10

[ 409 U.S. Page 298]

     II

It was against this statutory background that petitioner alleged he had been deprived of his membership contrary to the rules of the Exchange, the Commodity

[ 409 U.S. Page 299]

     Exchange Act, and the Sherman Act. And it was in this context that the Court of Appeals, having concluded that the specific Exchange rules allegedly violated*fn11 were within the bounds of adjudicative and remedial jurisdiction of the Commodity Exchange Commission, directed the District Court to hold its hand and afford the opportunity for administrative consideration of the dispute between petitioner and the alleged coconspirator-defendants.

The problem to which the Court of Appeals addressed itself is recurring.*fn12 It arises when conduct seemingly

[ 409 U.S. Page 300]

     within the reach of the antitrust laws is also at least arguably protected or prohibited by another regulatory statute enacted by Congress. Often, but not always, the other regime includes an administrative agency with authority to enforce the major provisions of the statute in accordance with that statute's distinctive standards, which may or may not include concern for competitive considerations.

Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, 373 U.S. 341 (1963), was a case where the conduct challenged in an antitrust complaint was not within the jurisdiction of an administrative agency but was nevertheless claimed to be immune from antitrust challenge by virtue of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Silver sought to recover damages allegedly suffered when his wire connections with Exchange members were terminated without notice or hearing under Exchange rules adopted pursuant to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 881, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 78a et seq. Under this Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission had general power to approve or disapprove Exchange rules, but it had no authority to deal with challenges, such as Silver's, to specific applications of Exchange rules. Moreover, the statute conferred on the Exchange no express exemption from the antitrust laws. We declined to hold that Congress intended to oust completely the antitrust laws and supplant them with the self-regulatory scheme authorized

[ 409 U.S. Page 301]

     by the Exchange Act. Repeal of the antitrust laws was to be implied "only if necessary to make the Securities Exchange Act work, and even then only to the minimum extent necessary." 373 U.S., at 357. The question thus became the extent to which, if any, the "character and objectives of the duty of exchange self-regulation contemplated by the Securities Exchange Act are incompatible with the maintenance of an antitrust action." Id., at 358. Conceding that the "entire public policy of self-regulation, beginning with the idea that the Exchange may set up barriers to membership, contemplates that the Exchange will engage in restraints of trade which might well be unreasonable absent sanction by the Securities Exchange Act," id., at 360, and hence that "particular instances of exchange self-regulation which fall within the scope and purpose of the Securities Exchange Act may be regarded as justified in answer to the assertion of an antitrust claim," id., at 361, the Court finally concluded that nothing in the terms or policy of the Act required or contemplated that a self-regulating exchange be permitted to impose serious deprivations without notice and opportunity for a hearing, and that neither the statute nor Exchange rules posed any legal barrier to the antitrust action.

In arriving at this conclusion, the Court expressly noted that the Securities and Exchange Commission had no authority to review specific instances of enforcement of Exchange rules; that this "obviate[d] any need to consider whether petitioners were required to resort to the Commission for relief before coming into court," id., at 358, and avoided "any problem of conflict or coextensiveness of coverage with the agency's regulatory power," ibid.; and that if there had been such jurisdiction in the Commission with "ensuing judicial review . . . a different case would arise concerning exemption from

[ 409 U.S. Page 302]

     the operation of laws designed to prevent anticompetitive activity, an issue we do not decide today." Id., at 358 n. 12.

That "different case" is now before us, but in the context of the Commodity Exchange Act, and we agree with the Court of Appeals that, given administrative authority to examine the Ricci-Exchange dispute in the light of the regulatory scheme and Exchange rules, the antitrust action should be stayed until the administrative officials have had opportunity to act. This judgment rests on three related premises: (1) that it will be essential for the antitrust court to determine whether the Commodity Exchange Act or any of its provisions are "incompatible with the maintenance of an antitrust action," id., at 358; (2) that some facets of the dispute between Ricci and the Exchange are within the statutory jurisdiction of the Commodity Exchange Commission; and (3) that adjudication of that dispute by the Commission promises to be of material aid in resolving the immunity question.*fn13

[ 409 U.S. Page 303]

     As to the first premise, the argument that the Commodity Exchange Act to some extent limits the applicability of the antitrust laws, and may limit them in this case, is plainly substantial. Repeal of the antitrust laws is not to be lightly assumed. United States v. Philadelphia National Bank, 374 U.S. 321, 350 (1963); Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, supra, at 357; California v. FPC, 369 U.S. 482, 485 (1962); Georgia v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 324 U.S. 439, 456-457 (1945); United States v. Borden Co., 308 U.S. 188, 198 (1939). But here the express will of Congress is that to deal in commodity futures one must either be, or deal through, a member of a board of trade having specified qualifications and carrying official designation as a contract market. The Act clearly contemplates a membership organization and hence the existence of criteria for the acquisition, transfer, and loss of membership. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange has such membership rules, and it had the statutory duty to enforce them to the extent that they constituted or were related to "trading requirements," 7 U. S. C. § 7a (8). If the transfer of Ricci's membership was pursuant to a valid rule, the immediate question for the antitrust court is whether the rule itself and Ricci's exclusion under it are insulated from antitrust attack. The question has substance, for the Commodity Exchange Act, like the Securities Exchange

[ 409 U.S. Page 304]

     Act, contemplates that the Exchange and its members will "engage in restraints of trade which might well be unreasonable absent sanction" by the Act. Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, supra, at 360. See Board of Trade of the City of Chicago v. United States, 246 U.S. 231, 238 (1918). On the other hand, if, as Ricci alleges, loss of his membership was contrary to Exchange rules, the antitrust action should very likely take its normal course, absent more convincing indications of congressional intent than are present here that the jurisdictional and remedial powers of the Commission are exclusive.

The question whether this membership dispute is within the jurisdiction of the Commodity Exchange Commission, the second premise for our judgment, was answered in the affirmative by the Court of Appeals. Because trading in futures may be done only by or through members, the membership rules of the Exchange were held to relate to "trading requirements" and were thus among those rules which the Exchange could not ignore without violating the Act and bringing itself within the jurisdiction of the Commission to adjudicate and remedy any violation "of the provisions of this chapter or any of the rules, regulations, or orders of the Secretary . . . or the commission thereunder . . . ." 7 U. S. C. §§ 8 (a) and 13a. We need not finally decide the jurisdictional issue for present purposes, but there is sufficient statutory support for administrative authority in this area that the agency should at least be requested to institute proceedings.*fn14

[ 409 U.S. Page 305]

     We also think it very likely that a prior agency adjudication of this dispute will be a material aid in ultimately deciding whether the Commodity Exchange Act forecloses this antitrust suit, a matter that seems to depend in the first instance on whether the transfer of Ricci's membership was in violation of the Act for failure to follow Exchange rules. That issue in turn appears to pose issues of fact*fn15 and questions about the scope, meaning, and significance of Exchange membership rules. These are matters that should be dealt with in the first instance by those especially familiar with the customs and practices of the industry and of the unique marketplace involved in this case. United States v. Western Pacific R. Co., 352 U.S. 59, 64-65, 65-66 (1956); Far East Conference v. United States, 342 U.S. 570, 574-575 (1952). They are matters typically lying at the heart of an administrative agency's task and here they appear to be matters that Congress has placed within the jurisdiction of the Commodity Exchange Commission. We should recognize "that the courts, while retaining the final authority to expound the statute, should avail themselves of the aid implicit in

[ 409 U.S. Page 306]

     the agency's superiority in gathering the relevant facts and in marshaling them into a meaningful pattern." Federal Maritime Board v. Isbrandtsen Co., 356 U.S. 481, 498 (1958). The adjudication of the Commission, if it is forthcoming, will be subject to judicial review and would obviate any necessity for the antitrust court to relitigate the issues actually disposed of by the agency decision. Cf. United States v. Philadelphia National Bank, 374 U.S., at 353-354; Federal Maritime Board v. Isbrandtsen Co., supra, at 498-499. Of course, the question of immunity, as such, will not be before the agency; but if Ricci's complaint is sustained, the immunity issue will dissolve, whereas if it is rejected and the conduct of the Exchange warranted by a valid membership rule, the court will be in a much better position to determine whether the antitrust action should go forward. Affording the opportunity for administrative action will "prepare the way, if the litigation should take its ultimate course, for a more informed and precise determination by the Court of the scope and meaning of the statute as applied to [these] particular circumstances." Ibid.

III

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL's dissent concedes, as it must, that it is essential for the antitrust court to make proper accommodation "between usual antitrust principles and the self-regulatory and exclusionary powers that the exchanges were obviously intended to exercise." It also concedes that where the regulatory regime is administered by an agency, the antitrust court will stay its hand to permit institution of administrative proceedings if they are "likely to make a meaningful contribution to the resolution of this lawsuit." Our differences thus narrow to whether proceedings in the Commodity Exchange

[ 409 U.S. Page 307]

     Commission would be of sufficient aid to justify a stay of this antitrust action.

The dissent asserts that for present purposes the only relevant issue in the antitrust action is "whether either the rules, or their application, serves a legitimate self-regulatory goal," that the Commission has no jurisdiction to determine facts relevant to whether Exchange rules are consistent with or essential to legitimate self-regulatory ends, and that we have mistakenly premised our opinion on the existence of such jurisdiction, without which there is no basis for deferring to agency proceedings.*fn16 This misapprehends our opinion and fails to come to grips with reality. We make no claim that the Commission has authority to decide either the question of immunity as such or that any rule of the Exchange takes precedence over antitrust policies. Rather, we simply recognize that Congress has established a specialized agency that would determine either that a membership rule of the Exchange has been violated or that it has been followed. Either judgment would require determination of facts and the interpretation and application of the Act and Exchange rules. And either determination will be of great help to the antitrust court in arriving at the essential accommodation between the antitrust and the regulatory regimes: The problem disappears entirely if it is found that there has been a violation of the rule; on the other hand, if it is found that the Exchange has merely followed and enforced its own rules, the antitrust court will be in a position

[ 409 U.S. Page 308]

     to make a more intelligent and sensitive judgment as to whether the antitrust laws will punish what an apparently valid rule of the Exchange permits.

Accordingly, the judgment is affirmed.

So ordered.

Disposition

447 F.2d 713, affirmed.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, concurring.

As I read the Court's opinion, it plainly disclaims any resolution of the issue left open in Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, 373 U.S. 341 (1963) -- namely, the question of which "particular instances of exchange self-regulation" occurring within a statutory scheme providing for self-regulation may be regarded as "justified in answer to the assertion of an antitrust claim" against the Exchange and its members. Indeed, the Silver problem is not before us. The Court of Appeals was careful to note that it expressed "no opinion on any antitrust immunity that might result from action or inaction taken by the Commission or the Secretary of Agriculture in this case." 447 F.2d 713, 720 n. 18.

The Court holds that the Commodity Exchange Commission may materially aid in proper consideration of petitioner's antitrust claims by determining whether respondents violated a rule of the Exchange. The Court's opinion should not be read to suggest that the Commission's resolution of the dispute either will or will not foreclose subsequent application of the antitrust laws.

With this understanding, I join the Court's opinion.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.

While I concur in my BROTHER MARSHALL's dissent, I wish to add that even if the Commodity Exchange Commission were empowered to make a determination regarding the relief sought by petitioner, it would appear to be an anomaly to direct the plaintiff in a civil action to a federal supervising agency for a determination as to

[ 409 U.S. Page 309]

     whether the regulations which it is charged to enforce have been violated, when the agency has, by its inaction, already shown every indication of sanctioning the alleged violation. By remanding, we are requiring the petitioner to seek from the regulators an admission of their failure to regulate (or negligence in regulating).

The odds of petitioner's getting the Commodity Exchange Commission now to find a violation in contradiction of its past inaction do not, in my view, justify the expense and delay to the petitioner. In the interests of orderly and efficient judicial administration, parties are not generally required to engage in futile gestures. This inequity is even more pronounced since, as MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL points out in his dissent, the Commodity Exchange Commission has neither the authority nor power to make a determination on the issues underlying the civil action.

My concern about remitting parties in federal court litigation to state courts or to federal administrative agencies for resolution of collateral questions of law is stated in my dissent in Clay v. Sun Insurance Office, 363 U.S. 207, 227-228; see also England v. Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners, 375 U.S. 411, 429 (concurring opinion). The road this litigant is now required to travel to obtain justice is equally long and expensive and available only to those with long purses, even though he is remitted only to a federal regulatory agency.

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, MR. JUSTICE STEWART, and MR. JUSTICE POWELL join, dissenting.

The majority accurately describes the provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act and the facts of this case. But my Brethren nowhere explain why the lower court should stay its hand pending action by an agency which in all likelihood lacks the statutory power to

[ 409 U.S. Page 310]

     resolve an issue in the lawsuit. Instead of carefully balancing the advantages and disadvantages of deferral to the agency, the Court seems to apply a mechanical test which requires judicial deference despite the substantial probability that the agency will have nothing of relevance to contribute. The principle that should govern this case can be stated quite adequately in a single sentence: An agency cannot have primary jurisdiction over a dispute when it probably lacks jurisdiction in the first place. The majority seemingly departs from this principle*fn1 and, hence, needlessly bifurcates and complicates a suit that could readily be resolved by the District Court. I must therefore respectfully dissent.

I

At the outset, it should be noted that the Commodity Exchange Act fails to provide petitioner with a means by which he can require the Commodity Exchange Commission or the Secretary of Agriculture to consider his case. The Act provides that "the Secretary of Agriculture is authorized. . . to disapprove any bylaw, rule, regulation, or resolution made, issued or proposed by a contract market." 7 U. S. C. § 12a (7) (emphasis added). Similarly, "if any contract market is not enforcing

[ 409 U.S. Page 311]

     or has not enforced its rules of government made a condition of its designation . . . the commission may. . . make and enter an order directing that such contract market . . . shall cease and desist from such violation." 7 U. S. C. § 13a (emphasis added). But although the relevant regulations provide a means by which a private party may report apparent violations -- see 17 CFR §§ 0.3 (a), 0.53 (a) -- the Act nowhere requires the Secretary or the Commission to act on these reports. Cf. Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 182 (1967). On the contrary, the Act expressly provides that "nothing in this chapter shall be construed as requiring the Secretary of Agriculture or the commission to report minor violations of this chapter for prosecution, whenever it appears that the public interest does not require such action." 7 U. S. C. § 13c (b).

Moreover, even if the Secretary or the Commission does institute proceedings at petitioner's behest, it is by no means certain that petitioner will be permitted to participate in those proceedings. The Commission's rules state that "the person filing an application [to institute proceedings] shall have no legal status in the proceeding which may be instituted as a result of the application, except where the applicant may be permitted to intervene therein . . . or may be called as a witness." 17 CFR § 0.53 (b) (emphasis added). See also 17 CFR § 0.3 (b). Although Commission rules provide for the intervention of private parties, the Commission apparently has unfettered discretion in deciding whether to allow intervention. See 17 CFR § 0.58. See also 17 CFR § 0.8.*fn2

[ 409 U.S. Page 312]

     Should the Commission or the Secretary not allow intervention in this case, this Court's decision will leave the District Judge on the horns of a serious dilemma. Normally, when a court stays its hand to allow agency proceedings, the result of those proceedings may not be collaterally attacked when the case returns to the court. See, e. g., Port of Boston Marine Terminal Assn. v. Rederiaktiebolaget Transatlantic, 400 U.S. 62, 71-72 (1970). But if the Commission decides a major issue in this lawsuit without allowing petitioner to intervene, failure to permit collateral attack would result in petitioner's antitrust case being resolved against him without his participation. On the other hand, if the District Court undertakes a de novo reconsideration of the issues submitted to the Commission, the Commission's decision, together with the concomitant delay, will be for naught.

II

The Court, then, remands petitioner to a procedure which he has no power to invoke, in which he has no right to participate if it is invoked, and which cannot provide the remedy he seeks even if he is allowed to participate.*fn3 Yet all this might be justifiable if either the Commission or the Secretary were likely to make a meaningful contribution to the resolution of this lawsuit. We have held that "when there is a basis for judicial action, independent of agency proceedings, courts

[ 409 U.S. Page 313]

     may route the threshold decision as to certain issues to the agency charged with primary responsibility for governmental supervision or control of the particular industry or activity involved." Id., at 68. The reason for this policy is self-evident: "in cases raising issues of fact not within the conventional experience of judges or cases requiring the exercise of administrative discretion, agencies created by Congress for regulating the subject matter should not be passed over." Far East Conference v. United States, 342 U.S. 570, 574 (1952).

Thus, if the Commodity Exchange Commission had jurisdiction over some aspect of this suit and special expertise in the area of its jurisdiction, a case could, perhaps, be made for awaiting its decision. For example, if the Commission had been given the power to grant general immunity to antitrust violators, sound judicial administration would require consultation with it before proceeding with the antitrust suit. But, as the majority itself recognizes, there is no indication that Congress intended to grant the Commission any such power. As this Court held in Carnation Co. v. Pacific Westbound Conference, 383 U.S. 213, 218 (1966), "we have long recognized that the antitrust laws represent a fundamental national economic policy and have therefore concluded that we cannot lightly assume that the enactment of a special regulatory scheme for particular aspects of an industry was intended to render the more general provisions of the antitrust laws wholly inapplicable to that industry." In practice, this principle has meant that "repeals of the antitrust laws by implication from a regulatory statute are strongly disfavored, and have only been found in cases of plain repugnancy between the antitrust and regulatory provisions." United States v. Philadelphia National Bank, 374 U.S. 321, 350-351 (1963) (footnotes omitted). Such repugnancy

[ 409 U.S. Page 314]

     has been found to exist only in those rare cases where regulation of the industry is pervasive and Congress plainly intended to substitute Government supervision for competition. See, e. g., Pan American World Airways v. United States, 371 U.S. 296 (1963). Cf. United States v. Radio Corp. of America, 358 U.S. 334 (1959).

Obviously, Congress has not granted the Commission the sort of pervasive power over commodity exchanges that would give rise to antitrust exemption. On the contrary, although the Commission and the Secretary have some general policing duties, day-to-day regulation has been largely left to the industry itself. Where, as here, the industry is given the power to control its own affairs, it is particularly important to make certain that this power is not abused for the purpose of eliminating competition. Cf. Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, 373 U.S. 341 (1963).

The majority cannot rely, then, on the Commission's general power to immunize antitrust violations. Its argument, as I understand it, is more subtle and, at the same time, more attenuated. As we recognized in Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, supra, the very purpose of an exchange is to exclude nonmembers from participation in trading. Were it not for the legislative authorization of such exchanges, they would constitute group boycotts that are per se violations of the Sherman Act. See, e. g., Klor's, Inc. v. Broadway-Hale Stores, 359 U.S. 207 (1959). Thus, although Congress cannot be taken to have granted total antitrust immunity to trading exchanges, some accommodation must be reached between usual antitrust principles and the self-regulatory and exclusionary powers that the exchanges were obviously intended to exercise. In Silver, the Court reached such an accommodation by holding that "exchange self-regulation is to be regarded

[ 409 U.S. Page 315]

     as justified in response to antitrust charges only to the extent necessary to protect the achievement of the aims of the Securities Exchange Act." 373 U.S., at 361. Thus, if an exchange rule serves a valid self-regulatory purpose, the mere fact that it excludes some individuals from competition does not mean that an antitrust violation has been made out. But where, as in Silver itself, the rule fails to serve any legitimate self-regulatory goal, its exclusionary effect can lay the predicate for a Sherman Act violation.

Applying Silver to the facts of this case, the majority argues that the Commission has primary jurisdiction to determine facts relevant to the question whether the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's rules and its application of those rules are in conformity with the self-regulatory purposes of the Commodity Exchange Act. Superficially, at least, that argument has considerable force. It is marred, however, by two flaws which, in my view, make it ultimately fallacious.

First, it is important to note that petitioner's complaint does not merely allege that he has been excluded from trading or that an Exchange rule has been broken. Rather, he maintains that the Exchange and certain of its members entered a deliberate conspiracy against him and that this was done "maliciously, willfully, knowingly, unlawfully and without just cause or provocation, with the unlawful and illegal intent, purpose and object of restraining and preventing plaintiff from exercising an essential and necessary part of his lawful trade or business in interstate commerce." Whatever the legitimate self-regulatory goals of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, I cannot believe that they include the deliberate and malicious suppression of competition. Surely, the courts do not need the Commodity Exchange Commission to tell them that such conduct is antithetical to the purposes of the Commodity Exchange Act. We have held that principles

[ 409 U.S. Page 316]

     of administrative comity preclude courts from finding antitrust violations "only . . . when the defendants' conduct is arguably lawful" under the administrative scheme. Carnation Co. v. Pacific Westbound Conference, 383 U.S. 213, 222 (1966). I would apply that principle here and hold that deliberate conspiracies with the sole purpose of suppressing competition are not "arguably lawful" under the Commodity Exchange Act.*fn4

To be sure, it may ultimately develop that petitioner is unable to substantiate all of his allegations and that the actions of the Exchange are less sinister than he has made out. Petitioner might be required to submit affidavits before trial demonstrating that his allegations of a deliberate conspiracy are factually supported in order to forestall a remand to the Commission. And if it becomes clear at any time during trial that the conspiracy allegations are insubstantial, there will then be time enough to reconsider the propriety of a delay pending Commission action. But I would not deprive petitioner of immediate access to the courts until he has had an opportunity to prove that the case is as clear as he says it is.

Moreover, even if petitioner's allegations are for some reason insufficient to forestall a remand to the Commission, I still doubt that the Court of Appeals acted properly in ordering a stay of the litigation. The majority's position is premised on the assumption that the Commission

[ 409 U.S. Page 317]

     has jurisdiction to determine facts relevant to whether Exchange rules, or the application of those rules, is consistent with legitimate self-regulatory ends.*fn5 But a careful examination of the Act makes plain that this assumption is simply incorrect.*fn6 Neither the agency nor the Secretary has been granted a roving commission to oversee the proper functioning of the various exchanges. Rather, the powers conferred in the Act are limited and discrete, and none of them grants to the Commission the tools necessary for resolving any issue in this dispute.

The Commission does have authority to oversee the exchanges' administration of their own rules. 7 U. S. C. § 7a (8) requires exchanges to "enforce all bylaws, rules, regulations, and resolutions, made or issued by it or by the governing board thereof or any committee, which relate to . . . trading requirements," and 7 U. S. C. § 13a permits the Commission to issue a cease-and-desist order "if any contract market is not enforcing or has not enforced its rules of government made a condition of its designation as set forth in section 7 of this title." But it should be obvious that these provisions do not

[ 409 U.S. Page 318]

     authorize the Commission to resolve the Silver issue. The quoted sections permit the Commission to determine whether the rules made by an exchange are being enforced. But they do not permit the Commission to decide whether either the rules, or their application, serves a legitimate self-regulatory goal, which is the only relevant issue in the antitrust suit. Thus, it is entirely possible that although the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has respected its own rules to the letter, those rules themselves are impermissible under the Sherman Act. Similarly, even if the rules are facially permissible, it is possible that, as applied in this case, they restrain competition without any offsetting self-regulatory gain. The mere fact that an exchange is obeying its own rules -- the only question that 7 U. S. C. §§ 7a (8) and 13a permit the Commission to answer -- does not tell us whether either the rules or their application meets the Silver test.

The Secretary is given supplementary power to invalidate certain exchange rules. But this power, too, is extremely limited. Title 7 U. S. C. § 12a (7) empowers the Secretary to "disapprove any bylaw, rule, regulation, or resolution made, issued or proposed by a contract market . . . which relates to . . . trading requirements, when he finds that such bylaw, rule, regulation, or resolution violates or will violate any of the provisions of this chapter, or any of the rules, regulations, or orders of the Secretary of Agriculture or the commission thereunder." (Emphasis added.) The "chapter" referred to is, of course, the Commodity Exchange Act, not the Sherman Act, and no provision of the Commodity Exchange Act incorporates Sherman Act principles. It follows that § 12a (7) does not empower the Secretary to invalidate exchange rules because they conflict with antitrust policy.

[ 409 U.S. Page 319]

     Moreover, as noted above, the restrictions placed on the exchanges by the Act are far from pervasive, and the Secretary's power to invalidate rules is therefore similarly restricted. Surely, this power does not include the ability to invalidate any rule that fails to serve a self-regulatory end. Such a reading of the Act would mean that Congress thought it had prohibited everything an exchange might do that would not serve self-regulatory purposes -- a reading that defies common sense. Thus, if the Secretary were to refuse to invalidate the rules involved in this action, his decision would only mean that those rules were not prohibited by any specific provision of the Commodity Exchange Act. The decision could in no way be taken to mean that the rule serves any useful purpose or that it meets the Silver requirement.*fn7

III

I do not mean to suggest that the Commission's consideration of this case is certain to prove totally useless when the District Court ultimately resumes its deliberations. Should the Secretary invalidate the rules that the Commission relies on, for example, his action would materially aid petitioner, although his claim would still

[ 409 U.S. Page 320]

     not be conclusively established since the Exchange's actions might be justified by a legitimate regulatory purpose, even though the rule relied upon violated a provision of the Act. Similarly, the Commission may make findings of fact or statements as to the law within areas of its expertise which the court might find helpful.

But I had not thought that petitioner need meet the burden of showing that resort to administrative remedies would be totally useless before securing adjudication from a court. Indeed, in virtually every suit involving a regulated industry, there is something of value that an administrative agency might contribute if given the opportunity. But we have never suggested that such suits must therefore invariably be postponed while the agency is consulted.

It has been argued that the doctrine of primary jurisdiction involves a mere postponement, rather than relinquishment of judicial jurisdiction. See, e. g., 3 K. Davis, Administrative Law Treatise 3-4 (1958). However, that observation should not be taken to mean that invocation of the doctrine therefore imposes no costs. On the contrary, in these days of crowded dockets and long court delays, the doctrine frequently prolongs and complicates litigation. More fundamentally, invocation of the doctrine derogates from the principle that except in extraordinary situations, every citizen is entitled to call upon the judiciary for expeditious vindication of his legal claims of right. As we have said in a somewhat different context "due process requires, at a minimum, that absent a countervailing state interest of overriding significance, persons forced to settle their claims of right and duty through the judicial process must be given a meaningful opportunity to be heard." Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371, 377 (1971). And surely the right to a "meaningful opportunity to be heard" comprehends within it the right to be heard without unreasonable delay. This

[ 409 U.S. Page 321]

     principle is especially worthy of protection in the antitrust field where it is unmistakably clear that Congress has given courts, rather than agencies, the primary duty to act. Cf. California v. FPC, 369 U.S. 482, 487-490 (1962).

To be sure, judicial deference to agency jurisdiction remains important, particularly in those areas where the responsibilities of judges and administrators meet and overlap. But the primary jurisdiction doctrine, like the related exhaustion requirement, must not be "applied blindly in every case" without "an understanding of its purposes and of the particular administrative scheme involved." McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 193, 201 (1969). Wise use of the doctrine necessitates a careful balance of the benefits to be derived from utilization of agency processes as against the costs in complication and delay. Where the plaintiff has no means of invoking agency jurisdiction, where the agency rules do not guarantee the plaintiff a means of participation in the administrative proceedings, and where the likelihood of a meaningful agency input into the judicial process is remote, I would strike a balance in favor of immediate court action. Since the majority's scale is apparently differently calibrated, I must respectfully dissent.


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