ONEOK, INC. ET AL. v. LEARJET, INC. ET AL.
Learjet, Inc. and other retail buyers of natural gas (Learjet) sued Oneok, Inc. and other energy trading companies (Oneok) for artificially increasing energy prices during the 2000–2002 energy crisis in violation of several states’ antitrust laws. Learjet claimed that Oneok reported false data and engaged in “wash sales,” which are prearranged sales in which traders execute a trade on an electronic trading platform, and then immediately offset that trade by executing an equal and opposite trade. Oneok moved to dismiss Learjet’s claims and argued that the claims were pre-empted by the federal Natural Gas Act (NGA). The Natural Gas Act regulates interstate, wholesale natural gas trade, but it does not apply to retail sales of natural gas. The district court granted Oneok’s motion to dismiss and held that Learjet’s claims were pre-empted by the NGA because Oneok’s actions affected wholesale prices as well as retail prices. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and held that, because Learjet suffered harm in retail transactions, which the NGA does not regulate, Learjet’s claims were not pre-empted.
Does the Natural Gas Act pre-empt state-law claims challenging industry practices that directly affect the wholesale natural gas market when those claims are asserted by litigants who purchased gas in retail transactions?