You may recognize Brian Ratner from his tough and successful negotiations with Kevin O’Leary on a recent episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” but his clients have been benefitting from this signature mix of intelligence, fortitude and grace in the antitrust arena for two decades now. His work as a litigation partner at Hausfeld is often international in scope, and Ratner thrives in the added complexities that come with cross-border competition work. He has also been instrumental in his firm’s rapid global expansion over the past ten years.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do at Hausfeld?
Brian Ratner: In addition to being a litigation partner, I’m head of Hausfeld’s International Practice and I serve on the firm’s Global Executive Committee, leading the firm’s global business development efforts. As a litigator, I have represented U.S. and international businesses in complex cases at both the trial and appellate levels. A large part of my practice is litigating and resolving antitrust claims in U.S. and European courts, to date recovering more than a billion dollars for my corporate clients and the classes I have represented.
I currently represent purchasers of auto parts, polyurethane foam, air freight services, Visa/MasterCard services, trucks, power cables, elevators, and pre-stressing steel in their individual cartel damage claims in Europe. Several of these clients are listed in Fortune Global 500 and Forbes Global 2000.
LD: What are some aspects about international antitrust work that you find professionally satisfying?
BR: The private enforcement of global competition laws has been like a new frontier. We have pioneered this area over the past 15 years, and despite the significant cultural, procedural, and economic hurdles that have stood in the way, it has been so encouraging and rewarding to see its development, and the successes for our clients in particular, and victims of anticompetitive conduct generally.
LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?
BR: The most interesting, challenging and rewarding cases I have worked on have been the series of Vitamins price-fixing cases, where I have served as one of the lead counsel and which have included several highlights. For example, Vitamins Antitrust Litigation in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (D.D.C.), which was a class action on behalf of vitamin direct purchasers who were overcharged as a result of a ten-year global price-fixing and market allocation conspiracy. The case settled for over $1 billion and included a 2003 jury trial resulting in a verdict of $148 million in trebled damages – the twelfth largest U.S. jury verdict in 2003.
There was also Empagran, S.A. et al. v. F. Hoffmann-LaRoche, Ltd., et al., also in D.D.C., a class action on behalf of foreign vitamin purchasers that went all the way to the Supreme Court, resulting in a groundbreaking judgment on the scope of U.S. Sherman Act jurisdiction. This case was designated as the "Matter of the Year" by the Global Competition Review.
Another highlight was In re Vitamin C Antitrust Litigation in the Eastern District of New York, a case alleging a conspiracy to fix the price and limit the supply of Vitamin C sold for export to the United States. The case resulted in entry of a 2013 judgment for $153.3 million post jury verdict in the direct purchasers' favor - the thirteenth largest U.S. jury verdict in 2013 - and $32.5 million in settlements. The jury verdict was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in 2018 in favor of the class and set the standard of deference to be afforded a foreign government’s submissions in U.S. courts. In the unanimous opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court held that “a federal court should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but is not bound to accord conclusive effect to the foreign government’s statements.” The Supreme Court recognized that federal rule of civil procedure 44.1 instructs judges that they may consider a variety of sources of information in making a determination of foreign law, and that while a foreign government’s explanation of its law is probative, such a statement does not have “conclusive effect.”
The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Second Circuit, instructing the court to apply the correct standard and level of deference. The case was awarded the Global Competition Review’s “Litigation of the Year – Cartel Prosecution” in 2019, as well as the American Antitrust Institute’s “Outstanding Antitrust Litigation Achievement in Private Law Practice” in 2018.
LD: What matter is keeping you busy these days?
BR: I have been representing car manufacturers and other OEMs regarding their auto parts cartel damage claims, and helping them achieve outstanding recoveries.
LD: What challenges did you face in successfully representing the car manufacturers in this case?
BR: The key challenge has been protecting these companies’ important supply relationships as they pursue damages claims. It has been a very delicate balance to strike, but I think our clients would tell you that we’ve done it successfully.
LD: What is the potential impact on the industry from this matter?
BR: This investigation was so broad – covering so many products across the supply chain – so a successful resolution for these clients has the potential to restore confidence in the parties’ commercial relationships by ensuring fairness in future pricing practices.
LD: Is there a specific lesson that you’re taking away from this work?
BR: In big corporate disputes like these, the issues are not personal and don’t have to permeate the entire commercial relationship, though there is a risk that this can happen if there isn’t acceptance of responsibility by the party that engaged in the illegal conduct and a willingness to fairly compensate for the loss caused.
LD: Is there a particular reason why you chose University of. Pittsburgh School of Law over another law school?
BR: It was an opportunity to come home to Pittsburgh and be surrounded by and supported by my family and personal network, which is a great situation for law school.
LD: Did you plan on building an antitrust practice while in law school?
BR: While I didn’t take antitrust in law school, I knew I wanted a practice that focused on litigation and negotiation, and was drawn to both the plaintiff-side and global business disputes. So antitrust and my global practice has been a wonderful blend of these elements.
LD: What advice do you have for current law school students?
BR: As soon as you know what you really want to do, don’t wait to do it. It’s very easy to be a sheep and just follow the herd – by seeking and taking the opportunity that everyone else wants and is seeking. But the sooner you can figure out what you really want to do the better, because once you are in that situation, the professional fulfillment will come immediately.
LD: Do you have a mentor?
BR: Michael Hausfeld has been my mentor for 19 years. He took me under his wing and helped guide me in my practice and management role in our firm that bears his name. I have litigated and tried so many cases with him and negotiated some of the biggest and most complex disputes with him. We have been before juries and the Supreme Court, adverse to the toughest and brightest opponents, and worked hand in hand on behalf of both small businesses as well as some of the biggest companies in the world. While I am my own person and have my own style and approach, this exposure, experience and opportunity to learn from such a visionary, fearless, and amazing dealmaker and litigator has made me the advocate I am today.
LD: Is there a matter or client in your career that stands out as a “favorite” or one that is more memorable for certain reasons?
BR: In the marine hose cartel matter, on behalf of a group of oil and gas companies, I led the negotiations with cartelist Parker ITR which produced a first of its kind private global settlement agreement. This was certainly a favorite given the novelty and creativity of this resolution. And now there are new collective mechanisms in the UK, Netherlands, and Germany, which open new doors for the collective pursuit and resolution of claims.
LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?
BR: I now also focus a significant amount of my time on firm management, overseeing our European expansion, building and strengthening our business in our core disciplines, and helping lead our efforts to diversify into new areas.
LD: What are some of the challenges you face in this management role?
BR: We have more than quadrupled the size of our team since Hausfeld was founded over 10 years ago, and now have 11 offices in the U.S. and Europe. This has required a great deal of management support and integration across multiple jurisdictions.
LD: Can you share some strategic plans for Hausfeld in the coming months or years?
BR: We expect measured growth in the short to medium term and plan to continue to expand our European footprint and practice, as well as diversify our areas of focus across all jurisdictions.
LD: What is unique about Hausfeld?
BR: We are very unique, and believe we have strong differentiators, such as our claimant-side focus, roster of amazing clients, innovative approach to fee and case funding arrangements, and track record of experience and success in the U.S. and Europe in our core disciplines.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
BR: I have a great deal of fun as President of CertifiKID, LLC (www.certifikid.com), a deal website focused on kids’ activities and family entertainment. In 2010, I co-founded the business with my wife Jamie who serves as CEO and runs the day-to-day operations. My focus is on high level business strategy and partnerships, as well as legal and financial issues. CertifiKID has been recognized by CNBC, The Washington Post, and Washingtonian Magazine as one of the best deal websites for parents. On April 7th, we appeared on the popular ABC television show “Shark Tank” and cut a deal with Kevin O’Leary, a/k/a “Mr. Wonderful.” His investment in CertifiKID is one of the top five biggest investments Mr. O’Leary has made in any company in ten seasons of “Shark Tank.”
The negotiation with Kevin O’Leary, can be seen on YouTube, and you can also read the press release and my blog post about my take on this incredible experience.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?
BR: I’ve read every John Grisham book. It’s my guilty pleasure on vacations.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
BR: First, CertifiKID! Second, an entrepreneur; third, a broadcast journalist; or fourth, involved in politics in some way.