Class Action Status Granted in Suit Against Cablevision for 2010 Fox Blackout

Cablevision headquarters in Bethpage. (Wikimedia Commons)

A federal court in New York City has granted class action status to a suit filed on behalf of Cablevision subscribers demanding that the company give them credit for the two weeks in October 2010 that they couldn’t watch any of the Fox Network’s shows because of a service blackout stemming from a contract dispute between the cable company and the programming provider.

On March 31, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert ruled in favor of the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, which was brought on behalf of Cablevision’s nearly 3 million subscribers in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. But only customers who had contracts with Cablevision prior to Oct. 16, 2010, when the blackout began, could be included in the suit if they so chose.

The court rejected each of Cablevision’s arguments against the class certification and concluded that the plaintiffs had met all of the requirements for it. In one instance, Cablevision had contended that its contract with its customers precluded class action status because it had dutifully notified the subscribers about the service interruption.

Two years ago, Judge Seybert rejected Cablevision’s contention that the Fox Television blackout was beyond its control.

The affected channels, which were in the basic bundle and the “iO” premium package, included “Fox 5,” “My9 Channel,” “Fox 29”, Fox Business Network, National Geographic Wild and Fox Deportes. One of the biggest reasons for the customers’ displeasure at the time was that sports fans could not watch the World Series or the Giants football games during the service disruption, which lasted until Oct. 30, 2010, when Cablevision and News Corp., Fox Television’s owner, reached a new retransmission agreement.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys—Todd J. Krouner in Chappaqua; Stone Bonner & Rocco LLP in Manhattan; and Chitwood Harley Harnes LLP in Manhattan—allege that Cablevision breached the contract with its cable customers by not giving subscribers a pro rata credit on their monthly subscriber fees or providing alternative programming on the Fox channels during the blackout.

As Judge Seybert wrote in her decision, “At this stage, it is not the Court’s task to determine whether Plaintiffs are correct. Rather, the Court must only assess whether the claim presents common issues of fact and law sufficient for class certification.”

That narrow interpretation was reiterated by Cablevision.

“The Court’s ruling concerns class certification issues and does not address the merits of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, which we believe is baseless,” said Lisa Anselmo, a Cablevision spokeswoman. “We will continue to defend against it vigorously.”

And so the suit continues.