WASHINGTON — American Telephone & Telegraph Co. may defend itself at trial against charges that it illegally forced seven businesses to buy unneeded phone service devices, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The justices, without comment, left intact a ruling that the businesses were not entitled automatically to win their lawsuit merely because AT&T had previously lost a similar antitrust case.
Both suits predated the breakup of AT&T, in which the phone company gave up its 22 wholly owned state and regional operating companies.
The court also agreed to judge the legality of a longshoremen union's efforts to soften the economic impact of the use of large metal shipping containers, whose use has replaced the piece-by-piece loading of ocean-borne cargo traditionally performed by longshoremen.
The justices said they would study a longstanding debate over labor responsibilities in the loading and unloading of the cargo containers shipped by sea.
In other rulings, the court:
- Let stand, without comment, an order that in 1983 barred the maker of Bufferin and Excedrin pain relievers from making "unsubstantiated" claims about its products. The justices refused to hear arguments that, among other things, the Federal Trade Commission's order violated Bristol-Myers Co.'s free-speech rights.
- Refused, without comment, to revive a cancer-stricken New York woman's lawsuit against four pharmaceutical companies that manufactured and marketed the now-banned drug DES, a synthetic female hormone once used in the belief that it would help prevent miscarriages.
New York's highest court had ruled that Linda Fleishman's suit against the four pharmaceutical firms was filed too late. It was filed in 1980, two years after she learned at age 23 that she had cancer. Her mother had taken DES during pregnancy. The state law deadline meant that the lawsuit would have had to be filed when she was about 2 years old. Fleishman's suit named Eli Lilly & Co., E. R. Squibb & Sons, Winthrop Laboratories and Upjohn Co. as defendants.
- Agreed to decide whether people may refuse, based on the privilege against self-incrimination, to give a grand jury their personal financial records. It will review a ruling that blocked the release of such records to a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., investigating what prosecutors say may be a drug-trafficking ring.
In the telephone company case, seven businesses said they were forced from 1968 through 1978 to pay for unneeded AT&T equipment.
The businesses said that their suit was identical to the one another company had won against AT&T and that the Bell company therefore should be barred from defending itself on the same issue.
But the appeals court said--and Monday's Supreme Court ruling affirmed--that AT&T is entitled to a full trial because evidence favoring the phone company was excluded illegally from the trial in the earlier case.