Aug 21 (Reuters) - In the latest test of U.S. class action
limits, telecoms firm Comcast Corp. lost a bid on Tuesday to
force a customer who filed an antitrust class action to
arbitrate individually, when a judge ruled it would be too
costly for the customer.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill in New
Haven, Conn. follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April 2011
that upheld a class action waiver clause in AT&T Inc.'s
Since the AT&T ruling, companies have sought to avoid costly
class actions by requiring consumers and employees to arbitrate
their disputes individually.
In the latest case, a Comcast subscriber had filed a class
action in 2009 accusing the firm of violating U.S. antitrust
laws by unlawfully bundling digital voice service with a modem.
Subscribers had no choice but to pay a rental fee for the
modem, the complaint said.
Comcast had sought to use the Supreme Court ruling to force
Robert Fromer of Windsor, Conn. to bring his claims in
arbitration, citing clauses in his subscriber agreement.
U.S. District Judge Underhill denied the motion on Tuesday,
citing the cost of forcing Fromer to litigate on his own. He
said Fromer might expect to recover $1 for every $202 he spent
in litigation and recover damages of up to $495.
"Therefore, because the class action waiver in this case
effectively precludes Fromer from pursuing federal statutory
remedies, the class arbitration waiver is void," Underhill
The ruling follows a similar decision by the 2nd Circuit
Court of Appeals in February finding American Express Co
could not use arbitration clauses to avoid an antitrust lawsuit
by merchant customers.
Representatives for Comcast did not respond to requests for
comment Tuesday after normal business hours. A lawyer for Fromer
also did not respond to a call or e-mail seeking comment.
The case is Fromer v. Comcast Corp., U.S. District Court for
the District of Connecticut, 09-cv-02076.
For Robert Fromer: William Sweetnam, Sweetnam, LLC.
For Comcast: Arthur Burke, Davis Polk & Wardwell, and Jaime
Bianchi, White & Case.
(Reporting By Nate Raymond)
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