Comcast Can’t Dodge Class Action Over Fees

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a class action claiming Comcast siphoned billions of dollars from TV subscribers through phony, undisclosed fees.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria denied Comcast’s motion to dismiss claims of breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation and fraud, finding it plausible that the company added bogus charges to cable bills beyond the prices it promised new customers.

Lead plaintiff Dan Adkins sued Comcast in October 2016, claiming the company increased cable bills by up to $10 per month with “newly invented” broadcast TV and regional sports fees, which it tried to pass off as government-imposed taxes.

“The plaintiffs have alleged the existence of a valid contract, which was created when Adkins and [co-plaintiff Christopher] Robertson submitted their order for Comcast services through Comcast’s website,” Chhabria wrote in his 4-page ruling.

Comcast argued online order summaries did not serve as a contract because customers agreed to pay any additional fees in a separate subscriber agreement. But Chhabria found that subscriber agreement did not specify a particular price for the service.

The judge also found a copy of Adkins’ order summary quoting $79.99 as the “base monthly total for all recurring charges” supported claims of fraud and misrepresentation against Comcast for charging a higher monthly price.

Chhabria refused to dismiss claims for injunctive relief because Comcast did not brief the issue, but the judge acknowledged the plaintiffs will likely have to pursue any injunctive relief claims through a separate state court action.

Additionally, the judge dismissed a claim of bad faith against Comcast without leave to amend, finding “the theory of breach the plaintiffs allege is the same as the breach of contract theory.”

The judge previously removed six out-of-state named plaintiffs from the suit, finding the court lacked jurisdiction to resolve their claims. That reasoning was validated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. San Francisco County Superior Court in June, holding that courts cannot hear claims brought by out-of-state plaintiffs against out-of-state companies without an adequate connection between the forum and claims at issue.

Comcast is the nation’s largest cable-media company and the 31st largest publicly traded company on the planet, with $80.4 billion in annual revenue and $193.5 billion in market capitalization as of May 2017, according to Forbes.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Daniel Hattis and Comcast attorney Michael Stortz did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Stortz is with Drinker Biddle & Reath in San Francisco. Hattis is in private practice in Bellevue, Washington.

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