Appeals court ponders waiting until after a decision in a related case before ruling

A U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has paused further action in Qualcomm’s efforts to shrink the size of one of the largest consumer class-action lawsuits ever filed.

The three-judge panel, which heard oral arguments in December, postponed the case on Wednesday. The judges are considering whether they should go forward now or delay a decision until a separate panel of judges rules on whether Qualcomm violated anti-monopoly laws in a parallel case.

The judges hearing the class-action case requested both sides submit written arguments by March 20 on whether the appeal should be postponed. The court moved without Qualcomm or lawyers for smartphone buyers requesting a delay.

The San Diego company aims to overturn a lower court’s decision to allow a class of 250 million smartphone buyers nationwide to sue, claiming they were overcharged because of Qualcomm’s illegally inflated patent license fees.

Qualcomm contends such a large, diverse and unwieldy class of consumers would make it impossible for the company to exercise its due process rights to challenge whether consumers were harmed.

Billions in damages could be at stake. The lawsuit covers 1.2 billion cellphone sales over eight years.

The class-action is centered on U.S. District Court Lucy Koh’s ruling in May that Qualcomm violated anti-monopoly laws in a case brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Qualcomm contends Koh made legal errors in the FTC case. It is appealing Koh’s decision, which is being heard by a separate 9th Circuit panel. Oral arguments were held in February. A decision is pending.

In the class-action, 9th Circuit Judge Ryan Nelson appeared sympathetic to Qualcomm’s arguments about the class size. He questioned lawyers about whether the lawsuit would still hold up if Qualcomm won a reversal of the FTC antitrust case. Qualcomm’s attorneys believed an antitrust reversal would derail the class-action suit.

Qualcomm declined to comment Thursday. The company’s shares ended trading down 3 percent at $79.17 on the Nasdaq exchange.