Judge OKs Class Action Status in E-book Suit Against Apple

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.

Cote found the technology company liable in July 2013 for colluding with the publishers after a non-jury trial in a case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Later this year, Cote will preside over a separate trial to determine damages, which could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

Thirty-three states and U.S. territories have separately sued on behalf of their consumers, while consumers in the remaining states filed the class action lawsuit that Cote addressed on Friday. The 33 states are seeking more than $800 million in damages.

The publishers previously agreed to settle related antitrust charges with the U.S. government for $166 million.

Apple is appealing Cote's ruling from last year, as well as her decision to appoint an external monitor to oversee Apple's antitrust compliance.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

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)