Judge Nixes Consumer Class-Action Against Microsoft

A federal judge handed Microsoft a legal victory Monday
when he ruled that more than 60 pending consumer antitrust lawsuits against
the company were not eligible for class-action status.


U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, who is also presiding over Sun
Microsystems’ antitrust
suit against Microsoft
, found that it would be too difficult to
identify a group of plaintiffs considered typical buyers of Microsoft’s
software, and that the individual suits were too dissimilar to be tied
together.

However, he did allow a much smaller group of suits — consisting of
consumers who purchased about $10 million of Windows software through
Microsoft’s shop.microsoft.com Web
site — to join together in a class-action suit.

Most of the cases were filed in 2000, after Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson
found
the company to be a monopoly that had violated antitrust laws. While
Jackson’s remedy was later
overturned
, and the case settled
, Jackson’s findings on the antitrust violations stood.


Many of the consumer cases filed in the wake of Judge Jackson’s decision
claimed that Microsoft used its monopoly power to overcharge consumers for
its Windows software and Office productivity suite. The consumers’ lawyers
had hoped to bring those cases together as a class-action suit which would
bring together thousands of computer users. Motz erected the first
roadblock on that path in 2001, when he ruled that only consumers who
purchased their software directly from Microsoft could sue the company.
Several dozen of the cases were thrown out as a result.


Judge Motz whittled the remainder down further on Monday, though his
opinion allows consumers to continue pursuing individual suits.

Microsoft had tried to settle
about 100 of the cases
in November 2001, with a plan that called for
Microsoft to provide software and computers to more than 12,500 of the
poorest public schools in the U.S. for five years, at an estimated cost of
$1.1 billion. Additionally, Microsoft’s proposed settlement had offered
$900 million worth of software for five years to schools in which most
students qualify for federal lunch programs. Reconditioned computers and
technical support were also part of the deal.


But Motz nixed
the deal
by January 2002, noting the cases had not progressed to the
point that he could determine what damages might have been obtained through
litigation. Microsoft’s solution also faced stiff opposition by competitors
like Apple Computer , which claimed the settlement would
strengthen Microsoft’s position in schools, one of Apple’s prime markets.

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