Northern District Grants Certification of Netflix Antitrust Class Action

In 1998 Reed Hastings founded Netflix, the lar...
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The Northern District of California granted plaintiff’s motion for class certification in In Re Online DVD Rental Antitrust Litigation, No. M 09-2029 PJH, 2010 WL 5396064 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 23, 2010) (slip op.).  Plaintiffs are individuals representing a putative class comprised of subscribers to Netflix’s online DVD rental service.

Background

Plaintiffs generally alleged that defendants Netflix, Wal-Mart Stores, and Walmart.com improperly entered into an unlawful market allocation agreement that was publicly announced on May 19, 2005, and which had the effect of illegally dividing the markets for sales and online rentals of DVDs in the United States.  Id. *1.  Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that Netflix and Wal-Mart were competing directly in the online rental DVD market in mid-2004, but that in the face of Blockbuster’s mid-2004 entry into the market place and the ensuing price wars between the three competitors, Netflix began conspiratorial communications with Wal-Mart, with the aim of having Wal-Mart exit the market place and thereby reduce downward pricing pressure in the marketplace.  Id. These efforts were successful, and were memorialized in the May 19 Agreement. Id. Plaintiffs alleged that the purpose of the Agreement was to monopolize and unreasonably restrain trade in the market for online DVD rentals, thereby allowing Netflix to charge supracompetitive prices to its subscribers.  Id.

Plaintiffs asserted four causes of action against Netflix and Wal-Mart: (1) a Sherman Act, section 1 claim for unlawful market allocation of the online DVD rental market (against all defendants); (2) a Sherman Act, section 2 claim for monopolization of the online DVD rental market (against Netflix); (3) a Sherman Act, section 2 claim for attempted monopolization of the online DVD rental market (against Netflix); and (4) a Sherman Act, section 2 claim for conspiracy to monopolize the online DVD rental market (against all defendants). Id. *2.

Class Definition

The putative class was defined as: “Any person or entity in the United States that paid a subscription fee to Netflix on or after May 19, 2005 up to and including the date of class certification.”

Discussion

Stating the policy in favor of certification of antitrust class actions, the court noted that “in antitrust actions such as this one, it has long been recognized that class actions play an important role in the private enforcement of antitrust laws.” Id. *3 (citing Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co., 405 U.S. 251, 262 (1972)). Read the rest of this entry »

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