The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to review a lawsuit between Microsoft and Xbox 360 users who allege that a defect in the console caused their game discs to be scratched, making them unplayable.
The overall dispute goes back nearly 10 years, to when the Xbox 360 was still the hot new thing. Yes, kids, in our day, there was an Xbox that shipped in white!
The original case focused on whether the disc-scratching resulted from a product defect, as the plaintiffs alleged; or misuse by Xbox 360 users, as Microsoft claimed. The initial suit said that “the Xbox optical disc drive is unable to withstand even the smallest of vibrations, and that during normal game playing conditions discs spin out of control and crash into internal components, resulting in scratched discs that are rendered permanently unplayable.”
Microsoft contends that many users who experienced the problem had ignored the prominent sticker on the Xbox 360’s disc tray that warned, in three languages, “Do not move console with disc in tray.” The company says fewer than 1 percent of Xbox 360 users had the problem.
Now the U.S. Supreme Court is jumping into the fray. The decision to hear the Xbox 360 disc-scratching case might conjure up images of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia engaged in epic “Halo 3” battles in chambers, tipping over each other’s Xbox 360s under the guise of “research.”
But in reality, the actual question to be considered by the court is much more specific and esoteric — far removed from video games and even from the original question at the center of the case.
Here’s what happened: The original lawsuit, filed in 2007, was denied class certification, meaning that the plaintiffs would need to pursue claims against Microsoft on their own, rather than working together toward a larger, collective judgment. A federal judge in Seattle based the decision on its finding that the plaintiffs would each need to prove the cause of their scratched discs individually.
The plaintiffs contended that what mattered wasn’t the specific circumstances of each scratched disc, but rather the common allegation of a defect. Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a new suit in 2011, emboldened by subsequent court rulings on that question, but a federal judge initially struck their class-action claims.
After trying unsuccessfully to get the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review that specific decision on the class-action claims, the lawyers for the plaintiffs did something different: They voluntarily asked the lower court to dismiss the entire case, seeking to proceed with their appeal on that basis.
After more legal wrangling, and a decision by the Ninth Circuit largely siding with the plaintiffs, Microsoft asked the Supreme Court to review the case, and on Friday the court agreed.
So that’s the legal technicality that the U.S. Supreme Court will be considering in the case: “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.”
Bottom line: On the off chance you’re hoping for a few bucks for that scratched “Gears of War” disc from 2006, you’ve probably got a long wait ahead.