U.S. telecommunications giant Comcast requested increased limits on class action lawsuits following a 2011 claim against Wal-Mart which was denied class action status. Comcast, which serves consumers in Maryland and many other states, currently faces an $875 million antitrust lawsuit filed by 2 million customers. The company argues that a judge wrongfully granted the case class action status, after which a federal appeals course allowed it to continue.
Experts say the ruling in the 2011 Wal-Mart case will likely affect the business litigation faced by Comcast. In that case, over 1.5 million female employees attempted to file a class action discrimination lawsuit against the retail giant, but a 5-4 Supreme Court decision barred the plaintiffs from suing as a group as they failed to identify that the discrimination they allegedly suffered was due to a large-scale corporate policy.
According to one expert, the Wal-Mart cause has made it increasingly difficult for plaintiffs to secure class action status. "You need to prove a lot about the merits at the certification," she explained. In previous years, most courts held that judges should not consider the basic merits of a case when deciding whether or not to certify a class. "Comcast is the next step on the road after Wal-Mart," explained the expert. The Wal-Mart ruling has already been cited in at least 800 cases across the country, making it likely that it could come into play with Comcast.
Legal experts say the Comcast case also has the potential to make a significant impact on other litigation if the Supreme Court decides that plaintiffs in antitrust cases are required to "prove common injury through admissible evidence." Many courts already require evidentiary hearings before the certification process, but extending this into standard practice could make antitrust cases particularly expensive for plaintiffs to pursue.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Comcast Follows Wal-Mart in High Court Lawsuit Attack," Margaret Cronin Fisk, Nov. 5, 2012