Comcast Backed by High Court on Philadelphia Antitrust Suit

Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable-television company, doesn’t have to defend against an $875 million antitrust lawsuit on behalf of as many as 2 million Philadelphia-area customers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

The justices, voting 5-4 to reverse a lower court, said the case against Comcast was too unwieldy to proceed as a single class-action lawsuit.

The Philadelphia-based company was accused of monopolizing its hometown market. The suing customers said Comcast swapped territories and subscribers with competitors to ensure it could control the market and charge higher prices. Comcast has denied the allegations.

The high court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the customers didn’t meet requirements for outlining a common method that could be used to determine monetary damages for each of the thousands of individual parties to the lawsuit.

Proof about a common methodology for measuring damages is needed before the case can proceed as a class-action suit covering many individual claims, the court said. The customers fell short when they produced a general theory about alleged overcharges from lack of competition without more detailed information about the impact of the specific antitrust allegation in the lawsuit, the court ruled.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court found that a class should not have been certified in this case,” Jenni Moyer, a Comcast spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Cable Competition

Comcast competes with Verizon Communications Inc.’s FiOS, DirecTV, Dish Network Corp. and smaller cable companies for TV customers in the Philadelphia region. The company has about 22 million video subscribers.

Comcast today rose 28 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $41.75.

Scalia’s majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

The dissenters said the majority’s opinion ignored the question the court took the case to settle -- how courtroom rules on admissible evidence should apply when judging expert testimony about measuring class-action damages.

Because of that, “the court’s ruling is good for this day and case only” and shouldn’t be applied more widely in other class-action suits, the dissent said.

The case is Comcast v. Behrend, 11-864.

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