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Supreme Court hears veterans benefits, antitrust cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Monday in two cases. In Peake v. Sanders [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court considered whether the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) [official website] bears the burden of proof that it adequately informed a veteran of the information needed to process a benefits claim under the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) [text, PDF]. The case involves two veterans whose benefits claims were denied. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] held [opinion, PDF] that the burden was on the VA to prove that notice was not prejudicial. Counsel for petitioner the VA argued that "the uniform practice in the courts of appeals [at the time the VCAA was enacted] was to place upon challengers to agency action the burden of showing prejudice from the error. And the Congress was well aware of that." Counsel for one of the respondents, Patricia Simmons, argued that "it would be difficult for the veteran and comparatively easy for the government to carry a burden."

In Pacific Bell v. Linkline Communications [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether a company can be sued for anti-competitive practices if it sets its wholesale prices to block competitors from the retail market. Linkline [corporate website] filed an antitrust complaint against Pacific Bell, doing business as AT&T [corporate website] for cornering the DSL market and then charging high wholesale and low retail prices to make it impossible for smaller companies who buy DSL from AT&T wholesale to compete in the retail market. AT&T was required to sell its services to competitors under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that Linkline's case survived a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Counsel for petitioner Pacific Bell argued that the decision does not comport with the Supreme Court's 2004 decision in Verizon v. Trinko [opinion, PDF], which held that there can be no claim unless the wholesaler has an antitrust duty to sell its product to its retail competitors. Respondents since agreed that the Ninth Circuit's decision was incorrect, but did not "give up." Counsel for respondent argued that although he did not believe the decision of the Ninth Circuit was incorrect, per se, it was incomplete and should be vacated and remanded. Counsel for petitioner argued that "a decision on the merits here is important because the Ninth Circuit's decision is harmful to consumers, deterring beneficial price cuts and sufficient particle integration."

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