Class Action for Cable-TV Outage During Storm Can Proceed

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on July 29, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Residents of Massachusetts might remember that in October 2011, a surprise "nor'easter" swept across New England, downing power lines, closing roads, and -- most importantly -- depriving cable customers of "Sopranos" reruns. A scant month later, four plaintiffs filed a suit in state court against Charter Communications, their cable company, because their cable service was down for nine days.

Charter removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, then moved to dismiss on the grounds that the plaintiffs' case was moot, as they had already received a credit on their bill for the time the service was down. The district court granted Charter's motion to dismiss.

Last week, in Cooper v. Charter Communications, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed class certification, but reversed the district court's motion to dismiss.

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You Stay Classy

Even though there were only four named plaintiffs, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts treated the complaint as a class action, which the First Circuit found was proper. The named plaintiffs sought only $75 each, but they also claimed that 95,000 customers also suffered the loss of episodes of "Two and a Half Men."

In addition, the First Circuit found that three of the plaintiffs had, in fact, had their injuries redressed through credits from Charter. But that's not the end of it: Thankfully, the fourth named plaintiff did not claim that her injury was remedied, meaning her case is still alive. And even though the other three plaintiffs did receive their rebates, they also wanted a declaration that Charter was required under Massachusetts law to give the rebates without the customers asking first. (Apparently it took the filing of the lawsuit before Charter offered those credits.) For this reason -- declaratory relief -- the First Circuit agreed to let the case move forward.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due (Literally)

The remaining problem centers around the interpretation of a Massachusetts law requiring a cable company to issue a credit if service is down for more than 24 hours. Charter insisted that the statute requires the customer to ask for a rebate first, rather than requiring the company to issue one on its own. For this reason, it wanted the case dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6). The First Circuit, however, didn't buy Charter's interpretation, finding it strange that the Massachusetts legislature would require customers to request a rebate as the result of an outage that Charter knew about already.

Finally, the First Circuit agreed to let state claims of unfair or deceptive practices move forward, finding it at least possible that, if the allegations were true, Charter would have unfairly denied customers the rebates that state law required it to provide.

Thanks to Charter's failure to proactively offer credits to affected customers, this class action will move forward. File this under "keep your promises," especially if those promises are mandated by state law.

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