Apple iPhone Owners Can’t Sue as a Class for Tie to AT&T

A logo sits on the case of an iPhone X smartphone. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

A group of consumers alleging that Apple Inc. violated antitrust laws by locking them exclusively into voice and data service from AT&T Inc. can’t sue as a class because they didn’t show how they will prove injury and damages as a group.

Apple unveiled its now-ubiquitous iPhone in 2007 that operated exclusively on AT&T’s wireless network. The exclusivity with AT&T was broken in 2011 when Apple unveiled versions of the iPhone that work on other networks such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint Corp., or T-Mobile US Inc. The plaintiffs in this case sued, saying the requirement to use AT&T caused them to pay higher prices than they would have if they had a choice of other carriers.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers Feb. 16 refused to certify a class because the plaintiffs’ expert didn’t give her any “viable method” for proving injury and damages. Without at least some evidence for how the group can prove its harm together, Rogers said she can’t conclude that common questions predominate among them, which is required to approve a class.

Proving antitrust damages as a class when each consumer may have paid a different price for a product is a common stumbling block in antitrust cases. Many antitrust class certifications turn on this question, and courts must carefully weigh whether the plaintiffs’ expert has a plausible, viable method for measuring harm on a class-wide basis.

This case is unusual because Rogers said that the plaintiffs’ expert “is essentially lacking any data-driven analysis” in the request for class status. A generalized theory of how class-wide injury might be demonstrated won’t satisfy the law’s requirements, she said.

The case is Ward v. Apple Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 12-cv-05404, 2/16/18