Tuesday’s decision by Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia categorically approving the merger of AT&T and Time Warner, without imposing any conditions or limitations and rejecting granting a stay for appeal purposes, will, unless blocked if there is an appeal, open the way for a series of pending vertical merger deals.

A “vertical merger” is a merger of two companies that do not compete and that are at different levels of the product or service-provision process. Such mergers do not reduce the number of competitors in a given market and, by producing efficiencies, generally have been considered productive and far less economically threatening than horizontal mergers among competitors. Indeed the Department of Justice (DoJ) had not challenged such a merger since the early 1970s. In challenging AT&T, DoJ argued that economic harm was threatened by the purported ability of the acquiring company to control downstream access to product and thus cause raised prices to consumers. Judge Leon rejected DoJ’s arguments in all regards.

The communications industry has been patiently awaiting the outcome of the case. But that isn’t the only economic sector that is going to see energetic activity. The health care sector stands right beside it, and we expect to see vertical merger action there too.

There are many major deals in the wings and, especially in the health care space, a number of them involve potential vertical relationships. As health care costs continue to rise and both public and private payers move towards value-based and other models, vertical integration is expected to become more attractive.

We at Epstein Becker Green will be writing in greater detail in the days to come, but our antitrust team already is gearing up for counseling and litigation defense matters generated in the wake of the AT&T case. We’ll continue to report on any subsequent activity in that matter as well, with the deal set to close on June 21, unless a higher court intervenes. That team, consisting of Stuart Gerson, John Steren, Trish Wagner, and Mark Lutes, among others, scored a recent victory in an important merger case on behalf of its client Palmetto Health* in the Fourth Circuit case of SCPH Legacy Corp. v. Palmetto Health, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected claims of antitrust standing and antitrust injury, two fundamental issues in merger analysis.

*Prior results are based on the merits of the case and do not guarantee a similar outcome.