A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an attempt by Philadelphia area residents to sue Comcast Corp. for antitrust violations allegedly committed as the company consolidated its hold of the Philadelphia cable market from 1998 to 2007.
In a 5 to 4 vote, the majority of justices overturned an appellate court decision that would have let the $876 million antitrust proceed.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court majority, said the Comcast subscribers didn't have enough of a common interest to mount a class action suit.
"Respondents class action was improperly certified," he wrote.
The subscribers lawsuit charged that Comcast's purchase and the trades of Philadelphia area systems with rival cable companies raised cable prices and reduced choices for Philadelphia area subscribers.
A divided appellate court had allowed the case to go forward, accepting the contention of the subscribers that Comcast's concentration served to reduce any likelihood competing cable providers would enter the Philadelphia market. The appellate court rejected other claims that Comcast's monopolization of the market had lessened the impact of satellite providers, lessened local price competition and unfairly increased Comcast's ability to wield bargaining power in negotiations with cable channels in ways that put other providers at a disadvantage.
Scalia in his opinion wrote that the appellate court had failed to fully review Comcast's arguments that the concentration hadn't impacted cable rates that much.
He also wrote that questions about the individual damages due members of the class, "will inevitably overwhelm questions common to the class."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in dissent, said the court should have dismissed its review of the case as "improvidently granted" because the legal issues at stake turned out to be different from those the court granted for review.
"The court's decision to review the merits of the district court's certification order is both unwise and unfair to respondents," she wrote.
She also suggested that the court majority's appeared to substitute "its own view of the facts" for the facts in evidence and she warned it offered "a profoundly mistaken view of antitrust law."
Comcast in a statement said it was pleased with the court decision.
"We are pleased that the Supreme Court found that a class should not have been certified in this case," the statement said.