A divided U.S. Supreme Court put the brakes on a class-action lawsuit against Comcast 3/28, alleging that Philadelphia-area subscribers paid too much for cable service. The lawsuit, which dated back to 2003, alleged the company gained a dominant position in the Philadelphia market by buying up other cable providers and by swapping geographic territories with competitors. The plaintiffs accused Comcast of creating a monopoly that gave it 69% of that market in 2007, up from 24% in 1998.
In a 5-to-4 decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court said that the proposed class of Comcast subscribers failed to meet formal legal guidelines for how to certify that evidence of wrongdoing was common to the group and that damages could be measured on a classwide, rather than an individual, basis.
The decision evoked a harsh dissent, however, written by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, that accused the majority of focusing on an issue other than that on which the court had agreed to hear the case. They said the court should not have heard the case.
Neither Comcast nor its subscribers had the chance to make their cases as to whether the company engaged in anticompetitive practices, established a monopoly or overcharged customers.
The majority created a ruling that “is good for this day and case only,” the dissenting justices wrote, and “sets forth a profoundly mistaken view of antitrust law.”
The Supreme Court majority said that the appeals court should have dismissed the case because the group that brought the lawsuit was not cohesive enough to have suffered measurable, common damages, reported The NY Times.
Comcast said in a statement: “We are pleased that the Supreme Court found that a class should not have been certified in this case.”
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, from which the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, said earlier that it could not answer the question about whether there was enough evidence of illegal conduct to warrant a class action. Such a decision would require it to rule on the facts of the case, the lower appellate court said, rather than on the law that governs when a class action may proceed.
Justice Scalia dismissed that argument. He was joined in the decision by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr.
Comcast, which disputed the allegations, said plaintiffs were seeking more than $875 million on behalf of more than two million past and present subscribers.
RBR-TVBR observation: Strange that the High Court didn’t just focus on the rates, vs. other Comcast markets. It’s one thing to serve a large chunk of the market, but it’s another to overcharge customers in that market because of lack of other options. However, even back in 2003, customers had other options for both MVPD (read: satellite) and Internet delivery.