For a decade, millions of Philadelphia-area cable subscribers were unknowingly part of a giant class-action lawsuit against Comcast. Now, they’re not.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court knocked back a class-action lawsuit against Comcast Corp. by Philadelphia-area subscribers. The case focused on whether Comcast had acquired a monopoly on cable service in the Philadelphia area.
Todd Ewan, an attorney with the firm Fisher and Phillips, says the giant class of pseudo-litigants may not notice but it was a big day for corporate lawyers.
The Supreme Court found that, not just in this case, but in general, plaintiffs need to bring more to the table to sue on behalf of a such a big class of people as cable subscribers. The high court overturned a lower court decision to certify as a class customers who say the company’s monopoly in parts of the Philadelphia area allowed it to raise prices unfairly.
Having a group 2 million strong is at the heart of a being able to bring a suit like this at all. It’s certainly not about an individual monetary motive, Ewan says.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a class action settlement check, but I’ve heard of them where you get a check for a penny or a check for 10 cents or a check for 11 cents,” Ewan said. “That’s never going to be incentive for you, from a pure economic standpoint, to pursue that case.”
Jeffrey May, a senior legal analyst with Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, says the Comcast case could live to see another day. Comcast had been in settlement talks with its subscribers before the Supreme Court decided it would take up the case.
“At this point, there could be a settlement to just end this lengthy litigation,” May said. “But it’s probably not going to be on the same terms the plaintiffs had hoped for.”
When it’s over, some customers might still get a check — just an even smaller one.