University gowns competition claim dismissed
The CAT today dismissed a claim by Churchill Gowns against Ede & Ravenscroft for anti-competitive behaviour relating to the supply of university gowns to students for graduation ceremonies.
Churchill Gowns is a start-up company whose business model involves hiring graduation gowns direct to students online. It brought a standalone claim under sections 2 and 18 of the Competition Act 1998, alleging that, Ede & Ravenscroft’s agreements with universities granting “official supplier” status had the effect of conferring de jure or de facto exclusivity on Ede & Ravenscroft, such that Churchill Gowns was foreclosed from accessing the market by way of supplying academic dress directly to students.
Following an 11 day trial, the CAT (Zacaroli J, Paul Lomas and Derek Ridyard) found that Ede & Ravenscroft hold a dominant position in the market for the supply of graduation services to universities, one aspect of which is the hire of academic dress to students. It found that Churchill have been precluded from gaining anything other than the smallest foothold in the market via their direct hire model. However, the CAT held that Ede & Ravenscroft had not abused its dominant position in breach of the Chapter II Prohibition and that its agreements with universities were not anti-competitive for the purposes of the Chapter I prohibition.
Ede & Ravenscroft also contended that the claim was barred, in whole or in part, by the doctrine of illegality. The CAT dismissed this defence, applying the three-fold test in Patel v Mirza  UKSC 42. Although it did not affect the outcome, the CAT went on to hold that Churchill Gowns misrepresented prior to 2021 that its gowns were made from 100% recycled plastic in that one of the directors of Churchill Gowns caused the misrepresentation to be made without caring whether it was true, sufficient to render it being made recklessly for the purposes of the tort of fraudulent misrepresentation.
Derek Spitz acted for Churchill Gowns (led by Fergus Randolph QC of Brick Court Chambers), instructed by TupperS Law. Conall Patton QC acted for Ede & Ravenscroft (with Michael Armitage of Monckton Chambers), instructed by Alius Law.
A copy of the judgment is found here.