Long Island medical giant Henry Schein and its major competitors in dental supply distribution are defendants in more than 20 antitrust lawsuits accusing them of colluding to restrict competition from discount distributors.
Most of the cases have been filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip or Brooklyn and are being consolidated into one case, at least for pretrial purposes, according to court papers. Many of the lawsuits have been filed by dentists since the beginning of the year.
The lawsuits said that Schein, which is based in Melville and is Long Island’s largest publicly traded company by revenue, Benco Dental Supply Co. of Pittston, Pennsylvania, and Patterson Companies Inc. of St. Paul, Minnesota, engaged in a “conspiracy to monopolize” the nation’s dental supplies market in violation of federal antitrust law.
Henry Schein vice president and chief global communications officer Gerard K. Meuchner said Tuesday in an email, “We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against these actions.”
“There is no truth to the allegations, and we’re confident that we will prevail in court,” Benco said in an email Wednesday. Patterson didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Schein and Patterson denied wrongdoing in court papers filed in connection with a similar suit filed last year by an Arizona dentistry supplier, SourceOne Dental. That case is pending in Central Islip. A conference aimed at negotiating a settlement is scheduled for April 13.
Most of the suits seek triple damages from alleged overcharges and seek class action status on behalf of more than 100,000 dentists and dental laboratories that purchased supplies from one or more of the three defendant companies.
The suits said the companies’ actions are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Texas and Arizona attorneys general and by the Federal Trade Commission. Neither of the attorney generals’ offices would comment. The Trade Commission cited its policy not to confirm the existence of, or comment on, ongoing investigations.
The three companies are the dominant dental supply distributors in the United States, according to the lawsuits, holding more than 80 percent of the market.
The suits said that the three engaged in or threatened group boycotts of state dental associations to prevent them from partnering with or endorsing new distributors, and also threatened or boycotted manufacturers who were selling products to discount distributors. The intent was to “block or otherwise substantially impair” the ability of rivals to compete, thus allowing the three to “artificially inflate” prices, said one of the most recent suits, filed Feb. 10 in Central Islip by dentist Joseph Styger of San Francisco.
In April, a consent judgment was issued against Benco in a separate lawsuit in the District Court of Travis County, Texas, in connection with an alleged boycott against SourceOne. In that case, Benco did not admit guilt, but agreed not to restrain trade, and to pay $300,000 for the investigation expenses incurred by the Texas attorney general, whose office filed the lawsuit.
With Laura Mann