Saturday, 6 October 2007

iPhone Price-Cut Lawsuit Could Morph Into Apple Class-Action Case

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The lawyer behind the case in which a New York City woman is suing Apple and AT&T (NYSE: T) for $1 million over its $200 iPhone price cut has got another legal move up her sleeve. It could potentially elevate the litigation from a curiosity that's been derided throughout the blogosphere (like here, where it's called "the moronic lawsuit of the day") into a serious action complete with an antitrust allegation.
The lawyer, Jean Wang, who practices out of the downtown Flushing, N.Y., neighborhood that's been revived over the last 20 years by massive immigration from China and Korea, isn't some two-bit ambulance chaser. She went to Columbia University for her undergraduate education, and got her law degree from American University in Washington, D.C..
I was curious about her case, so I called her. She told me that the seemingly minor action, in which Dongmei Li is charging price discrimination over Apple's June iPhone price cut, could get much bigger.
"I'm looking for a class action," Wang said, noting that she's planning to seek reimbursements for all early iPhone purchasers affected by the cut. "Right now, I'm seeking as plaintiffs people just like Li, who feel their property was devalued."
Mindful of the many people who are all but laughing at some Queens woman for taking on mighty Apple, I asked Wang if she really thought she had a case. "My chances are high," Wang told me. "We're suing them not for lowering their prices, but for the various antitrust violations that have resulted from them lowering their prices."
Wang clarified the point, saying she's suing Apple not just for cutting its price, but "lowering their prices despite market conditions." That is, she's charging anticompetitive behavior.
The legal time line here is that the next step in the case comes on Jan. 11, when a scheduling conference is set before Judge Thomas Boyle in the Alphonse M. D'Amato U.S. Courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y.
Between now and then, Wang will see if the Li case can be extended into a class action. Wang has set up a site,, where she's looking for plaintiffs to join the suit.
Claim 1 from Dongmei Li's lawsuit against Apple. (Click picture to enlarge, and to see four of the other claims.) So, should Apple and AT&T be concerned? On a macro level, no. There's always ongoing litigation, and it's true that most cases are small potatoes. However, on a micro level, let's not deride every plaintiff seeking redress for a perceived wrong. Weren't laws enacted on behalf of the people, and aren't they there to be used if and when needed?
I'm not taking sides here. I'm simply saying that the correct party usually wins in the end, and that Apple can certainly defend itself.
The thing many laypeople don't get is that litigation doesn't turn on your common-sense understanding of the issues involved. Nor does one's personal opinion of Steve Jobs' behavior matter. All that counts is the law, legal precedents, and how judges -- and, if it comes to that, juries -- interpret same.
We let the likes of Apple determine how best to do technology. Let's let the legal system decide how and where the law applies.

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