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Judge certifies Apple app store class action

FILE PHOTO: The Apple logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday said tens of millions of Apple customers can pursue a class action accusing the company of monopolizing the market for iPhone apps by banning purchases outside its App Store, leading to higher prices.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers had in March 2022 refused to certify a class action, but changed her mind after the class was narrowed to include only Apple account holders who spent $10 or more on app or in-app content.

While remaining "concerned" that the narrowed class might include more than 10 million accounts that suffered no harm, or 7.9% of the total, Rogers said that number could be reduced and there was no fixed "cutoff" for denying certification.

The Oakland, California-based judge also rejected Apple's bid to exclude testimony it considered unreliable from two expert witnesses, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel McFadden, about how it may have harmed consumers.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mark Rifkin, a lawyer for the consumers, said he was "extremely pleased" and looked forward to the next phase of the 12-year-old antitrust case. He estimated that the class incurred "billions of dollars in damages."

Class actions can result in greater recoveries at less cost than if plaintiffs are forced to sue individually.

Rogers has also overseen "Fortnite" videogame creator Epic Games' antitrust case against Apple.

In Sept. 2021 she ordered Apple to loosen restrictions on where developers can seek payment from customers for their apps, but stopped short of requiring Apple to allow downloads to iPhones outside its App Store.

A federal appeals court upheld much of that ruling in April 2023, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved last month.

The case is In re Apple iPhone Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 11-06714.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)