Comcast Class Action Down but not Out

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge Tuesday dismissed with leave to amend a class action accusing Comcast of charging cable TV subscribers billions of dollars in bogus fees.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria granted both groups of plaintiffs — a California group and an out-of-state group — leave to amend.

Lead plaintiff Dan Adkins sued Comcast in October 2016, claiming it charges customers $10 extra each month in “broadcast TV” and “regional sports” fees, which it disguises as government-imposed taxes. Adkins said the practice raises customers’ monthly charges above what they were told they would pay when they subscribed.

Comcast said in its motion to dismiss that it charges the fees to cover part of the cost of transmitting broadcast TV signals and regional sports networks, and that Congress “encouraged” it to list the costs on subscribers’ bills when it passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act in 1992.

At an April 20 hearing, Chhabria said he would grant Comcast’s motion to dismiss with leave to amend because customers can cancel service and get a full refund within a month.

The judge made good on that promise Tuesday, ruling in a 2-page order that the California plaintiffs had failed to state their claims because they did not say how Comcast tricked them over the fees.

But, Chhabria wrote: “it appears possible that the complaint could be amended to state a claim with respect to at least some of the counts,” and granted the California plaintiffs 21 days to amend.

Chhabria found the out-of-state plaintiffs had failed to establish personal jurisdiction over Comcast, but granted them leave to amend “because the law regarding personal jurisdiction over the claims brought by the out-of-state plaintiffs is in flux.”

Chhabria referred to Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. San Francisco County Superior Court, which the U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide in June. The decision in that case will determine whether out-of-state plaintiffs can sue an out-of-state company for injuries suffered in another state.

Chhabria said that if the Supreme Court favors the out-of-state plaintiffs, they can seek leave to amend their complaint within 30 days of the decision.

Class counsel Dan Hattis said in an email Tuesday that the plaintiffs plan to file an amended complaint.

“Judge Chhabria’s order was very positive for plaintiffs; no claims were dismissed without leave to amend, and Judge Chhabria indicated that a repleaded complaint would survive a motion to dismiss,” Hattis said. “Comcast’s high-power attorneys left the courtroom in a huff, very clearly upset with the ruling.”

Comcast is represented by Seamus Duffy with Drinker Biddle & Reath in Philadelphia, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

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