By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge in New York granted class certification on Friday to a group of consumers who sued Apple Inc for conspiring with five major publishers to fix e-book prices in violation of antitrust law.
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said the plaintiffs had "more than met their burden" to allow them to sue as a group. She rejected Apple's contentions that the claims were too different from each other, or that some plaintiffs were not harmed because some e-book prices fell.
"This is a paradigmatic antitrust class action," wrote Cote, who has scheduled a trial later this year to determine damages, which could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
In July 2013, Cote found the technology company liable for colluding with the publishers after a separate non-jury trial in a case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. Cote found that Apple took part in a price-fixing conspiracy to fight online retailer Amazon.com Inc's dominance in the e-book market.
Apple is appealing that decision.
Thirty-three states and U.S. territories have separately sued on behalf of their consumers, while individual consumers in other states and territories filed the class action lawsuit that Cote addressed on Friday. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $800 million in damages.
The publishers previously agreed to settle related antitrust charges for $166 million before trial.
Apple has asked the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out Cote's ruling from last year, as well as her decision to appoint an external monitor to oversee the company's antitrust compliance, a move Apple has called "radical" in court filings.
The 2nd Circuit last month rejected Apple's request to halt the monitor's oversight while its appeal is pending.
Cote on Friday also denied Apple's motion to exclude the opinions of the plaintiffs' damages expert. In a separate ruling, Cote largely threw out the opinions of Apple's two damages experts, saying they were not based on "rigorous application of economic methods."
Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, the plaintiffs' lead lawyer, said, "We are thrilled with the win."
The trial will likely take place in either July or September.
The consolidated case is In Re: Electronic Books Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-md-02293.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
[Image via Agence France-Presse]