U.S. Supreme Court set to hear arguments in decade-old Xbox 360 scratched-disc case

Credit: geekwire.com

A lawsuit from 2007 over Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has finally made it to the Supreme Court. (Flickr Photo / Shaun Greiner)

The U.S. Supreme Court is planning to hear arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by Xbox 360 users against Microsoft over scratched video game discs.

SCOTUS isn’t reviewing the case for nostalgia’s sake. The country’s highest court is using the lawsuit to determine whether a specific legal loophole is permissible in civil proceedings. We’ll get to that momentarily, but first a little background.

(Wikimedia Photo)

Nearly 10 years ago, a group of gamers sued Microsoft, claiming the Xbox 360 console scratched their video games because of a product defect. Those individuals filed for class action status — meaning the plaintiffs would be considered as a group, with bigger legal consequences — but a federal judge in Seattle denied them class certification.

After filing another lawsuit in 2011, the plaintiffs tried, unsuccessfully, to get the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decision on their class certification. The problem was, federal appeals courts typically can only review the final decisions of district courts. Although the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were denied class action status, the individual lawsuits, brought by people who said the Xbox 360 scratched their discs, lived on. That meant the appeals court couldn’t review them.

The plaintiffs argued the case only made sense with class action status because the damages to individuals’ games were negligible when compared with the cost of legal proceedings. The district court’s decision not to certify the plaintiffs as a class would have meant the end of the road, as happens with most cases filed as class actions.

Still with us? Good, because this is where it gets interesting. In an unusual (but not unprecedented) move, the individual plaintiffs asked the courts to voluntarily “dismiss” their cases which, in legal terms, is a final decision. Of course, legal terms aren’t always common-sense terms. In this case, the plaintiffs dismissed their claims under the condition that they could be revived if the appeals court granted class-action status.

The legal rigmarole resulted in a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that largely sided with the plaintiffs.

Microsoft then asked the Supreme Court to review the case and determine whether the loophole is legally permissible. That brings us to Tuesday’s proceedings, during which SCOTUS will hear arguments in the Microsoft Corp v. Baker case.

The precise question they’ll consider is, “Whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction under both Article III and 28 U. S. C. §1291 to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their individual claims with prejudice.”

Visit the SCOTUS blog for a more detailed explanation of the civil proceedings that will be argued tomorrow.

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