Class Action Defense Cases–Somers v. Apple: California Federal Court Denies Class Action Certification Of Rule 23(b)(3) Class In Indirect Purchaser Antitrust Class Action But Reserves Ruling On Class Action Treatment Under Rule 23(b)(2)

Oct 20, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Alleging Antitrust Violations on Behalf of Indirect Purchasers Failed to Satisfy Class Action Requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) because no Methodology for Establishing Class Wide Damages but Request for Class Action Certification under Rule 23(b)(2) taken under Submission California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Apple alleging violations of federal and state antitrust laws; specifically, the class action complaint challenged Apple’s sale of music for its iPod through its iTunes online music store. Somers v. Apple, Inc., 258 F.R.D. 354, 355 (N.D. Cal. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Apple utilizes proprietary hardware and software for its iPod and digital music downloads, Apple’s share of the online music market is 83% and of the online video market is 75%, and Apple “deliberately” makes music and videos purchased at its online store “inoperable with its competitors’ [hardware],” id., at 355-56. The class action alleges that this allows Apple “to charge iPod purchasers a supracompetitive price by preventing consumers who have purchased music files from iTMS from playing their music on Apple’s competitors’ digital media players.” Id., at 356. While a related case sets forth parallel allegations on behalf of consumers who purchased iPod’s directly from Apple, see The Apple iPod iTunes Antitrust Litigation, U.S.D.C. Northern District of California Case No. C 05-00037 JW, this class action is filed on behalf of consumers who made their purchases through third-party vendors. Id. Plaintiff moved the court to certify the litigation as a class action under both Rule 23(b)(2) and (b)(3), id., at 357. Defense attorneys opposed the motion, arguing that “Plaintiff fails to advance class-wide methods of demonstrating individual coercion or damages” and that “a nationwide class is not appropriate, because California antitrust law should not be applied on a nationwide basis.” Id., at 357-58. The district denied the motion.

After summarizing the legal framework surrounding certification of class actions in indirect purchaser antitrust class actions, see Somers, at 358-59, the district court turned to the request for certification under Rule 23(b)(3). (The court assumed without discussion that requirements of Rule 23(a) had been met.) Plaintiff argued that a class action would be manageable because “her expert’s methodology is sufficient to establish damages on a class-wide basis.” Id., at 359. Defense attorneys disagreed, arguing that the expert “fails to demonstrate how all class members suffered injury as a consequence of [Apple’s] alleged anticompetitive activity,” id. The district court held an evidentiary hearing on the competing, proposed methodologies, id., at 360-61, and concluded that plaintiff had not assuaged the court’s concerns as to a method of establishing damages for the class, id., at 361. Accordingly, the court denied class action certification because “Plaintiff has failed to meet her burden of establishing ‘a reliable method for proving common impact on all purchasers of [D]efendant’s products throughout the chain of distribution.’” Id., at 361 (citation omitted). And with respect to plaintiff’s motion for certification of a class under Rule 23(b)(2), the district court noted that it had requested further briefing on this issue and held that “the Court will not rule on this issue until it has greater understanding of the claims, the class definition, and the form of injunctive relief sought by Plaintiff in this case and the Plaintiffs in the parallel Direct Purchaser Action.” Id. Accordingly, it took the latter request under submission. Id.

NOTE: In the related case, the district court granted class action treatment under both Rule 23(b)(2) and (b)(3) as to the class action’s Sherman Act § 2 and state law claims, but refused to certify the litigation as a class action “as to either the Sherman Act § 1 tying claims or the tying component of the companion state law claims.” Somers, at 356-57.

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