Arrêt cardiaque & entente illicite

FlickR - Défibrillateur - iz4aksQuand plusieurs sociétés médicales jouent de concert contre un centre hospitalier universitaire (CHU), les fausses notes ne tardent pas à se faire entendre. Le CHU, celui de Montpellier en l’occurrence, n’était pas seul au demeurant. Seize autres CHU l’avaient mandaté pour lancer un appel d’offres concernant l’acquisition de défibrillateurs cardiaques, ce qui n’est pas une mauvaise idée en ces temps de tension budgétaire, le nombre faisant la force, et l’économie.

Les sociétés Biotronik, Ela Medical, Guidant, Medtronic et Saint Jude Medical s’étaient concertées pour refuser de répondre à l’occasion de cet appel d’offres. Le Conseil de la concurrence avait condamné cette entente, par décision n°07-D-49 du 19 décembre 2007.

Las, il en aurait fallu davantage pour décourager les sociétés succombantes puisque non contentes de leur sanction, elles interjettent appel de la décision devant la Cour d’appel de Paris, juge d’appel des décisions de l’Autorité de la concurrence, nouvelle dénomination de l’autorité administrative indépendante gardienne du droit de la concurrence.

Deux points intéressants ressortent principalement de la décision des juges d’appel ((CA Paris, 1ère chambre, sect. H, 8 avril 2009, n° RG : 2008/01092.)) : compétence et portée d’un recours incident.

Cachez ce juge de la concurrence que je ne saurais voir

L’entente qui a été condamnée avait consisté à mettre en échec une nouvelle procédure d’achat en commun pour obtenir de meilleurs prix et de meilleurs services. Parmi les questions évoquées, la compétence de l’autorité était clairement mise en cause. Les entreprises sanctionnées invoquaient l’irrégularité de cette nouvelle procédure d’appel d’offres et considéraient en conséquence que le juge administratif était seul compétent, observation étant faite qu’aucune des entreprises condamnées n’y avaient participé dès lors que ce qui leur était précisément reproché, c’était de s’être abstenues, de manière concertée, d’y participer.

De manière didactique, la Cour d’appel de Paris rappelle les conditions de la répartition des compétences entre le juge et l’Autorité de la concurrence, et la possibilité de qualifier une entente illicite « passive » résultant d’un refus collectif de donner suite à un appel d’offres.

« Considérant que, si le juge administratif est seul compétent pour apprécier la légalité d’un acte administratif, en l’occurrence la procédure d’appel d’offres, et en prononcer l’annulation, le Conseil de la concurrence est compétent pour apprécier, au regard du droit de la concurrence, les comportements des entreprises auxquelles cet appel d’offres s’adresse, qu’elles prennent ou non le parti d’y répondre, et prononcer, le cas échéant, des sanctions et injonctions à l’encontre de ces entreprises si leur comportement révèle une entente ayant un objet ou un effet anticoncurrentiel ; que l’intervention du juge administratif pour appréhender la légalité d’un acte administratif ne fait pas obstacle à la compétence du Conseil pour examiner de telles pratiques, indépendamment des irrégularités alléguées de l’appel d’offres ».

Quand le ministre dégaine incidemment le premier

La jurisprudence de la Cour d’appel de Paris a consacré un principe simple à comprendre : celui du « principe général de non-aggravation du sort du requérant en l’absence de recours du ministre chargé de l’Economie, qui s’oppose à ce que la sanction soit aggravée » ((CA Paris, 1ère chambre, sect. H, 15 janvier 2008, n° RG : 2007/02775.)).

Autrement dit, une partie déjà condamnée en première instance peut rester sereine du simple fait qu’elle n’a pas introduit de recours principal en appel et que le ministre, ou une autre partie, n’a pas formé de recours principal contre la décision.

Mais les principes ne sont pas gravés dans le marbre, et il arrive qu’ils évoluent. C’est ainsi que le ministre invitait la cour d’appel, par le biais d’un recours incident, à augmenter l’amende imposée par le Conseil aux cinq entreprises, c’est-à-dire y compris celles (il y en avait quand même trois sur cinq) qui n’avaient pas formé de recours principal.

Hésitante dans un premier temps, la cour d’appel s’est résolue à apporter une réponse positive. Ainsi, il n’existe pas de « lien nécessaire entre les modalités de la notification du recours incident et de sa portée ». Rien n’interdit au ministre compétent de « mettre tout le monde dans le même panier ».

Précédent fâcheux pour les entreprises qui souhaitent montrer qu’elles ont compris leur erreur en n’interjetant pas appel. Le code de commerce ne prévoyant pas la possibilité de former un nouveau recours incident, il est vivement recommandé aux sociétés condamnées en première instance de former un recours principal en appel – quand bien même elles ne le souhaitent pas – plutôt que de se laisser bercer par l’initiative contentieuse des co-défenderesses.

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