How Epic v. Apple Operationalizes Ohio v. Amex


The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Ohio v. American Express (“Amex”) remains central to the enforcement of antitrust laws involving digital markets. Specifically, the decision established a framework to assess business conduct involving transactional, multisided platforms from both an economic and legal perspective. At its crux, the Court in Amex integrated both the relevant market and competitive effects analysis across the two distinct groups who interact on the Amex platform, that is, cardholders and merchants. This unified, integrated approach has been controversial, however. The primary debate is whether the Court’s ruling places an undue burden on plaintiffs under the rule of reason paradigm to meet its burden of production to establish harm to competition. Enter Epic v. Apple (“Epic”): a case involving the legality of various Apple policies governing its iOS App Store, which, like Amex, is a transactional, multisided platform. While both the district court and the Ninth Circuit largely ruled in favor of Apple over Epic, these decisions are of broader interest for their fidelity to Amex. A careful review of the decisions reveals that the Epic courts operationalized Amex in a practical, sensible way. The courts did not engage in extensive balancing across developers and users as some critics of Amex contended would be required. Ultimately, the courts in Epic (a) considered evidence of effects across both groups on the platform and (b) gave equal weight to both the procompetitive and anticompetitive effects evidence, which, this Article contends, are the essential elements of the Amex precedent. Relatedly, the Epic decisions illustrate that the burden of production on plaintiffs in multisided platform cases is not higher than in cases involving regular, single-sided markets. Additionally, both parties, whether litigating single-sided or multi-sided markets, are fully incentivized to bring evidence to bear on all aspects of the case. Finally, this Article details how the integrated Amex approach deftly avoids potential issues involving the out-of-market effects doctrine in antitrust, which limits what type of effects courts can consider in assessing conduct.