Judge Refuses to Dismiss Antitrust Suit Against AMC Entertainment

A federal court judge refused to throw out an antitrust lawsuit that claims AMC Entertainment is demanding that studios refuse to license choice titles to an upscale competitor or face damaging their relationship with the exhibition giant.

U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross, in a decision issued on Friday, wrote that Cobb Theatres had presented sufficient evidence to allow to move forward its claims of such antitrust violations as restraint of trade and monopolization.

Cobb Theatres operates seven CineBistros throughout the country, but its lawsuit focused on a complex it owns in Brookhaven, Ga. It claims that AMC, which operates two multiplexes in neighboring Buckhead, Ga., began requesting “clearances” to gain titles for showing only at its properties, rather than agree to day-and-date releases.

Cobb Theatres contends that an AMC executive sent a letter to major film studio distributors informing them that they would not play day-and-date releases at the Buckhead locations, noting, “We have played 100% of your wide commercial releases and look forward to continuing that arrangement going forward.”

The result, Cobb Theatres contends, is that they have been able to draw fewer high-grossing popular films. Among the studios that have agreed to AMC’s demands is Sony Pictures Entertainment, according to Cobb’s lawsuit.

While AMC argued that Cobb got the exclusive license to “Elysium” and “Captain Phillips,” Ross wrote that the argument was “without merit.”

“Defendants cannot seriously contend dismissal is warranted by pointing out Cobb was given crumbs when the complaint alleges AMC was given the rest of the pie,” she wrote in a footnote.

Cobb also contends that AMC has thwarted its efforts to expand by threatening to invoke clearances in regions where Cobb is trying to lease property. Landlords, Cobb claims, are then deterred from leasing space over the prospect of seeing less foot traffic.

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