The “right-to-repair” movement continues to gain momentum, and as predicted, litigation has started even in the absence of enacted right-to-repair laws. In a recently filed class-action complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the plaintiff alleges that the equipment manufacturer deliberately prevents farmers from repairing their own equipment or using independent repair shops, which the plaintiff argues are antitrust violations under Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1, 2. See Eagle Lake Farms Partnership v. Deere & Co., No. 3:22-cv-50078 (N.D. Ill.).
By way of brief background, the “right to repair” generally refers to laws or regulations that ensure that consumers (or after-market businesses) can repair, maintain, or modify the devices and equipment they purchase even when the manufacturer of those devices and equipment attempts to require the consumer to use only “original equipment manufacturer” replacement parts and services.
We recently reported that more than half of all states had pending legislation in 2021 to address right-to-repair laws (discussed in our previous article here) and that President Biden recently reiterated his commitment to right-to-repair rules, with legislators taking those comments to propose new laws on the issue (discussed in our previous article here). Even in the absence of such laws though, we anticipated that litigants and regulators would use existing antitrust laws and consumer protection laws to increase scrutiny of practices that restrict consumers’ right to repair.
The recently filed Eagle Lake Farms lawsuit is one such example. In that case, the complaint alleges that farmers traditionally had the ability to repair and maintain their own tractors, or at least had the option to bring their tractors to an independent mechanic for repairs. However, the complaint alleges that John Deere deliberately monopolizes the repair and maintenance market by making crucial software and repair tools inaccessible to farmers and independent repair shops. The complaint further alleges that John Deere also prevents its network of highly consolidated dealerships (Dealerships) from providing farmers and repair shops with access to the same software and tools used by the Dealerships, which provides John Deere and the Dealerships with “supracompetitive profits from the sale of repair and maintenance services.” The complaint brings eight counts under the Sherman Act for antitrust violations, as well as counts for promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment. The complaint’s proposed nationwide class includes “[a]ll persons and entities residing in the United States who, during the Class Period of January 10, 2018 to the present, purchased Deere Repair Services for Deere Tractors from Defendant or Deere’s authorized Dealers and/or technicians.”
While we continue to expect that states and the federal government will enact right-to-repair laws this year, we anticipate an increase in investigations, enforcement proceedings, and lawsuits from private litigants and regulators using existing antitrust laws in the absence of right-to-repair legislation. The Eagle Lake Farms lawsuit provides but one example of such a strategy. As courts interpret the scope of antitrust enforcement in the context of the right-to-repair movement, we anticipate that regulators will proceed with their own enforcement actions to shape the right-to-repair jurisprudence.
At Troutman Pepper, we understand the complexities of the intersection of law and technology in a changing legal and regulatory landscape. Our team is dedicated to breaking down complex legal issues and providing guidance that manufacturers and businesses can understand.