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Comcast Prevails in Antitrust Class Action Dispute

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 27, 2013 4:04 PM

Comcast may have won the Supreme Court battle, but it has lost the public relations war.

Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that lower courts had improperly certified millions of disgruntled Comcast customers as a class because the plaintiffs didn’t properly outline an adequate method for issuing damages to the affected customers, Ars Technica reports.

Comcast Corporation and its subsidiaries provide cable-television services to residential and commercial customers. From 1998 to 2007, they engaged in a series of transactions described as "clustering," a strategy of concentrating operations within a particular region. As a result of nine clustering transactions in the greater Philadelphia area, the companies' market share in the region increased from 23.9 percent in 1998 to 69.5 percent in 2007. Customers' cable bills also increased.

When droves of affected customers sued, the district court certified a class action lawsuit for alleged violations of federal antitrust laws. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

The Supreme Court, however, concluded that certification was not appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3). That rule requires a class-action certifying court to find that "the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy."

In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia noted:

For all we know, cable subscribers in Gloucester County may have been overcharged because of petitioners' alleged elimination of satellite competition (a theory of liability that is not capable of classwide proof). While subscribers in Camden County may have paid elevated prices because of petitioners' increased bargaining power vis-à-vis content providers (another theory that is not capable of classwide proof); while yet other subscribers in Montgomery County may have paid rates produced by the combined effects of multi­ple forms of alleged antitrust harm; and so on. The permutations involving four theories of liability and 2 million subscribers located in 16 counties are nearly endless.

So Comcast avoids an antitrust class action lawsuit for now, but we can only imagine the PR team's embarrassment after the Court's announcement that the company angered too many customers in too many places about too many issues to defend a class action lawsuit.

That doesn't exactly help the cable provider's reputation, does it?.

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