State Attorneys General Can't Force Meta To Shed Instagram And WhatsApp

Siding with Meta Platforms, a federal appellate panel on Thursday refused to revive an antitrust lawsuit brought by a New York-led coalition of 48 attorneys general who sought to force the company to divest Instagram and WhatsApp.

"The States’ lawsuit is not only odd, but old," D.C. Circuit Court Judge Raymond Rudolph wrote in an opinion joined by Circuit Judges Karen Henderson and Robert Wilkins. The decision upheld U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg's ruling dismissing the lawsuit as time-barred.

Rudolph said the case was “odd” because it “concerns an industry that ... has had rapid growth and innovation with no end in sight.”

He added that the attorneys' general waited too long after the acquisitions to bring suit.

The attorneys generals' lawsuit -- like an antitrust case brought by the Federal Trade Commission -- centers on Facebook's acquisition of Instagram (acquired for $1 billion in 2012) and WhatsApp (bought for $19 billion in 2014). The FTC's lawsuit is still pending before Boasberg.

Meta argued to Boasberg that the states' claims should be barred due to “laches” -- meaning that the attorneys general waited too long after the acquisitions to sue.

Boasberg agreed, and dismissed the states' case in 2021. The attorneys general then asked the D.C. Circuit to revive the matter.

That court rejected the states' request, writing that they “unduly delayed in bringing suit.”

“The States were on notice of Facebook’s two major acquisitions. Both were publicized,” Rudolph wrote, adding that the Federal Trade Commission conducted a lengthy investigation of the Instagram purchase before it closed.

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