AMC Theatres may have the second-most screens in America, but one small theatre chain says it won’t be shut out. “By its acts, practices, and conduct, over the past 4-5 years and continuing today, AMC has engaged in a course of conduct that amounts to monopolization and/or unlawful exercise of monopoly power,” says Cobb Theatres in an antitrust complaint filed in federal court in Georgia this week. In the 42-page filing (read it here) requesting a jury trial, Cobb wants AMC — which has more than 5,000 screens in about 350 theatres nationwide — stopped via injunction from continuing its alleged behavior that started in 2009. Cobb also seeks an award equal to three times the damages it says it has suffered, legal fees, and all profits AMC made from supposedly preventing Cobb access to films like Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man.
Mincing no words, the smaller chain cites a “ruthless campaign” and accuses AMC of using “its worldwide and national circuit power and its market power in a substantial number of geographic markets to coerce film distributors” to stop Cobb being able to play major movies. Directly or through joint ownership, Cobb has 19 theatres situated in Georgia, Florida, Virginia and Colorado for a total of 231 screens.
Many of Cobb’s charges against AMC, which is primarily owned by China’s Wanda Group, are centered on two multiplexes it owns in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta and one 7-screen CinéBistro Cobb runs in the nearby Brookhaven area. Cobb’s filing claims a 2010 letter to film distributors from Rich Boynton, Senior VP and Head Film Buyer for the AMC Phipps Plaza 14 and the AMC Fork & Screen Buckhead, that says “we will not play day-and-date with” their CinéBistro, calling it “a de facto demand by AMC for preferential or exclusive film licensing treatment” and that Cobb has been suffering the results ever since. Calling out films like Spider-Man, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, the One Direction concert film, This Is The End, and flops like White House Down and After Earth, Cobbs says “in response to AMC’s letter, several of the major film distributors began honoring AMC’s demand for preferential treatment/clearance/exclusivity by (1) allocating films between AMC’s Buckhead theaters and the Brookhaven CinéBistro, with the Brookhaven CinéBistro generally being allocated substantially fewer of the highest-grossing, most popular films, and (2) conditioning the license of high-grossing, popular films to the Brookhaven CinéBistro on its agreement to play such films on several, i.e., 3–4, of its 7 screens.” It adds, “these practices continue today.” On the other hand, Cobb admits it did get hits like Sony’s Captain Phillips and Elysium.
Cobb is repped by a team of lawyer from Atlanta firm Fellows Labriola LLP and Thomas Boeder and Catherine Simonsen of Seattle’s Perkins Coe.