Appeal could delay resolution of class action against Comcast

Comcast Corp. had reached a "tentative settlement" in June with lawyers for about 2 million cable-TV customers in an $875 million class action.
Comcast Corp. had reached a "tentative settlement" in June with lawyers for about 2 million cable-TV customers in an $875 million class action. (GENE J. PUSKAR / AP)
Posted: August 24, 2012

Comcast Corp. reached a "tentative settlement" in early June with lawyers representing about two million Philadelphia-area Comcast cable-TV customers in a $875 million class-action lawsuit.

But Comcast says the deal was not final and has declined to follow it because two weeks later the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the case.

Details of the settlement - including cash payments, service discounts or credits for Comcast cable-TV customers - are now under a court-approved seal order.

It is the latest development in the long-running antitrust suit, filed in 2003, that claims Comcast clustered cable systems in the Philadelphia area through a series of swaps with other cable companies in the late 1990s, enabling it to control and raise cable prices.

The Supreme Court's willingness to hear the potentially precedent-setting case was viewed by legal experts as a blow to the plaintiffs. The threat of a September trial date made Comcast amenable to settling because of the potential for painful damages, they said.

A ruling by the nation's highest court in Comcast's favor could make the plaintiffs' case substantially more difficult.

Federal Judge John R. Padova held a hearing on the settlement dispute here on Tuesday. The online legal-affairs site Law360 quoted lawyer Michael Carroll, of Davis Polk & Wardell L.L.P, who represents Comcast, saying in court, "Our understanding of the term sheet is that the term sheet was a starting point for us." He added, "Both sides hedged a little bit in this case. Both sides left room to negotiate a little more. Both sides were leaving a little window."

Carroll and lead plaintiff attorney Barry Barnett, of Susman Godfrey L.L.P., described the agreement in a jointly signed June 13 letter to Padova. The letter is part of the court file.

"The parties are pleased to inform the court that they have reached a tentative agreement to resolve the above-mentioned actions," the letter said. "As noted, the parties plan to file preliminary approval papers shortly after final settlement papers are completed on June 30," it continued.

The Supreme Court announced its decision on June 25 to hear Comcast v. Behrend this fall. It will be the first time a Comcast case will be decided at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will consider whether the Philadelphia judge properly certified the Comcast cable TV customers as a damaged class for the purposes of the suit. A key issue is whether there is evidence that the Comcast customers were uniformly harmed by the company, and how to calculate the damages.

Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said Comcast was not disclosing the amount of the discussed settlement. Barnett did not respond to an e-mail or phone call seeking comment.

Kenneth A. Jacobson, a professor at Temple University's law school, called the sitution unusual because the Supreme Court does not typically decide to hear a case "during the settlement negotiation and approval process."


Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|