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Flovac, Inc. v. Airvac, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 4, 2016

FLOVAC, INC., Plaintiff, Appellant,
AIRVAC, INC. and MARK JONES, Defendants, Appellees

Page 850


         Roberto Ruiz Comas, with whom RC Legal & Litigation Services, P.S.C. was on brief, for appellant.

         Zachary A. Madonia, with whom David M. Schiffman, Courtney A. Hoffmann, Sidley Austin LLP, Rafael Escalera Rodriguez, and Reichard & Escalera were on brief, for appellees.

         Before Lynch, Selya and Lipez, Circuit Judges.


Page 851

          SELYA, Circuit Judge.

          That an antitrust case may turn on the definition of the relevant market is a common-sense proposition. In this instance, the summary judgment record disclosed a relevant market much broader than the plaintiff claimed -- a market in which the defendant lacked any semblance of market dominance. Finding the plaintiff's antitrust claims wanting and its companion claims equally impuissant, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant. After careful consideration, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff-appellant Flovac, Inc. (Flovac) and defendant-appellee Airvac, Inc. (Airvac) both fabricate vacuum sewer systems.

Page 852

Such systems are among the options available to transfer sewage from various sources to wastewater treatment facilities. There is money to be made in providing this essential infrastructure to governmental units (especially municipalities) and to developers.

         In May of 2012, Flovac filed suit against Airvac and Airvac's president, Mark Jones, in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. Flovac sought relief under both federal and Puerto Rico antitrust laws, see 15 U.S.C. § § 1-2; P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 10, § § 258, 260, alleging that Airvac's conduct in marketing its vacuum sewer systems was anticompetitive. The specifics of the challenged behavior are irrelevant here; for present purposes, it suffices to say that the alleged anticompetitive conduct occurred in the course of Airvac's solicitation of municipalities interested in installing new sewer systems. According to Flovac, Airvac lobbied those prospective customers both to choose vacuum systems and to impose project specifications favorable to its proprietary wares.

         Flovac's complaint also contained claims of tortious interference with advantageous economic relations, brought against Airvac and Jones under Puerto Rico law. See P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, § 5141. These claims focused on a specific vacuum sewer system installation in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico (the Ingenio Project). Both Flovac and Airvac competed for that project; and though the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) solicited bids for a vacuum sewer system with specifications modeled on Airvac's system, the general contractor who won the bid chose Flovac to provide the vacuum system components.

         Airvac did not go quietly into this bleak night. The Ingenio Project was funded in part through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), Pub. L. No. 111-5, 123 Stat. 115, which contained certain " Buy American" provisions, mandating that funded projects use only materials produced in the United States, see id. § 1605. Jones -- noting both the ARRA's mandate and the stipulation in the project requirements that the component parts for the system had to be purchased from a single manufacturer -- wrote to PRASA in May of 2010 questioning the manufacturing process for Flovac's system. PRASA halted Flovac's work temporarily, but replied in June that it was satisfied that Flovac's system complied with both the ARRA and the applicable project requirements.

         Airvac then raised the ARRA compliance issue in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- the agency tasked with overseeing the " Buy American" requirements for the Ingenio Project. EPA investigated the complaint and recommended that Flovac implement some modifications to its manufacturing process. Flovac complied. It thereafter completed the project, but not without protracted delays (allegedly attributable to Airvac's meddling).

         After a series of discovery squabbles (not relevant here), Airvac moved for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Flovac opposed the motion. In a thoughtful rescript, the district court granted summary judgment in Airvac's favor on all claims. See Flovac, Inc. v. Airvac, Inc., 84 F.Supp.3d 95, 107 (D.P.R. 2015). This timely appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

          Our standard of review is de novo, which requires us to take the facts in the light most agreeable to the summary judgment loser and to draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in that party's favor. See Tropigas de P.R., Inc. v. ...

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