The Supreme Court suggested on Tuesday that it is sympathetic to Microsoft Corp in a dispute with disgruntled owners of the Xbox 360 video-game system who sued saying the console has a design defect that scratches game discs.
The justices heard arguments on Tuesday in a case that involves the Xbox 360 owners' attempts to get class action status for their lawsuit, which was filed several years ago in the state of Washington, where Microsoft is headquartered.
Xbox 360 owners were initially denied class action status in the lawsuit. Several justices seemed sympathetic to Microsoft's argument that the Xbox 360 owners shouldn't be permitted to use a procedural maneuver to force an appeals court to weigh in after the appeals court declined to do so.
Microsoft has sold millions of Xbox 360 consoles since they were introduced in 2005. It says only 0.4 per cent of owners report disk scratching and that in many cases damage is the result of consumer misuse.
The company says consumers were warned both in the instruction manual and on a sticker affixed to the console not to move it while a disc was inside.
When a handful of Xbox 360 owners sued, a federal judge initially said the lawsuit couldn't proceed as a class action, and an appeals court declined to consider an appeal of that decision.
The Xbox 360 owners then asked the judge to dismiss their case, a procedural move designed to get the appeals court to weigh in, which it did. Microsoft says that shouldn't be allowed to happen.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told the attorney for the Xbox 360 owners, Peter Stris, that "rule makers went through a lot of work" to come up with the rule governing appeals in class action cases and suggested he was making an end run around it.
And Justice Stephen Breyer suggested the "simplicity" of ruling for Microsoft seemed preferable, asking Stris if there was "anything terrible that would happen" if the justices ruled against his clients.
Arguing for Microsoft, lawyer Jeffrey Fisher told the court that ruling for the Xbox 360 owners would "upend" the "carefully considered" rule governing an appeal of a class action determination.
Business groups including the US Chamber of Commerce have urged the court to side with Microsoft. In briefs to the court they say a ruling for the Xbox 360 owners gives those who file questionable class action lawsuits another chance to pursue class action status if they fail to get it at an early stage of the litigation.