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decided: May 18, 1981.



Rehnquist, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Stewart, White, and Stevens, JJ., joined. Powell, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, in which Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., joined, post, p. 569.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 451 U.S. Page 559]

 JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this case is the appropriate measure of damages in a suit brought under § 2 (a) of the Clayton Act, as amended by the Robinson-Patman Act.*fn1

Petitioner, for several decades a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in Birmingham, Ala., went out of business in 1974. It subsequently brought suit against respondent in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, alleging that from January 1970 to May 1974 respondent's various "sales incentive" programs violated § 2 (a). Under one type of program, respondent assigned to each participating dealer a sales objective and paid to the dealer a bonus on each car sold in excess of that objective. Under another type of program, respondent required each dealer to purchase from it a certain quota of automobiles before it would pay a bonus on the sale of automobiles sold at retail. The amount of the

[ 451 U.S. Page 560]

     bonus depended on the number of retail sales (or wholesale purchases) made in excess of the dealer's objective, and could amount to several hundred dollars. Respondent set petitioner's objectives higher than those of its competitors, requiring it to sell (or purchase) more automobiles to obtain a bonus than its competitors. To the extent petitioner failed to meet those objectives and to the extent its competitors met their lower objectives, petitioner received fewer bonuses. The net effect of all this, according to petitioner, was that it paid more money for its automobiles than did its competitors. It contended that the amount of the price discrimination -- the amount of the price difference multiplied by the number of petitioner's purchases -- was $81,248. It also claimed that the going-concern value of the business as of May 1974 ranged between $50,000 and $170,000.

Respondent maintained that the sales incentive programs were nondiscriminatory, and that they did not injure petitioner or adversely affect competition. The District Court denied respondent's motion for a directed verdict. The jury returned a verdict against respondent and awarded petitioner $111,247.48 in damages, which the District Court trebled.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed with instructions to dismiss the complaint. 607 F.2d 1133 (1979). It found that in order to recover treble damages under § 4 of the Clayton Act, a plaintiff must prove (1) a violation of the antitrust laws, (2) cognizable injury attributable to the violation, and (3) at least the approximate amount of damage. It found it unnecessary to consider whether petitioner proved that respondent's incentive programs violated § 2 (a) because, in its view, petitioner had "failed to introduce substantial evidence of injury attributable to the programs, much less substantial evidence of the amount of such injury." Id., at 1135. Rejecting petitioner's theory of "automatic damages," under which mere proof of discrimination establishes the fact and amount of injury, the court held that injury must be proved by more than mere "[conclusory] statements

[ 451 U.S. Page 561]

     by the plaintiff, without evidentiary support." Id., at 1136-1137. The court concluded that the District Court erred in refusing respondent's motion for a directed verdict and in denying its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. We granted certiorari, 449 U.S. 819 (1980), to review the decision of the Court of Appeals.


Petitioner first contends that once it has proved a price discrimination in violation of § 2 (a) it is entitled at a minimum to so-called "automatic damages" in the amount of the price discrimination. Petitioner concedes that in order to recover damages it must establish cognizable injury attributable to an antitrust violation and some approximation of damage. Brief for Petitioner 9. It insists, however, that the jury should be permitted to infer the requisite injury and damage from a showing of a substantial price discrimination. Petitioner notes that this Court has consistently permitted such injury to be inferred in injunctive actions brought to enforce § 2 (a), e. g., FTC v. Morton Salt Co., 334 U.S. 37 (1948), and argues that private suits for damages under § 4 should be treated no differently. We disagree.*fn2

By its terms § 2 (a) is a prophylactic statute which is violated merely upon a showing that "the effect of such discrimination may be ...

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