The Supreme Court held that App Store consumers could sue Apple under antitrust laws, in a 5–4 decision Monday.
The majority opinion in Apple v. Pepper, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, found that the four plaintiffs, who originally sued Apple in 2011 for unlawfully monopolizing the sale iPhone apps, could move forward with their case. Apple had contested the legal standing of the plaintiffs by claiming that they were not “direct purchasers” from Apple, but rather from the app makers themselves. The court forcefully denied this line of argument.
“Apple’s line-drawing does not make a lot of sense, other than as a way to gerrymander Apple out of this and similar lawsuits,” Kavanaugh wrote.
"We’re confident we will prevail when the facts are presented and that the App Store is not a monopoly by any metric," Apple said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "Developers set the price they want to charge for their app and Apple has no role in that. The vast majority of apps on the App Store are free and Apple gets nothing from them. The only instance where Apple shares in revenue is if the developer chooses to sell digital services through the App Store."
The court did not rule on the merits of the plaintiffs’ case against Apple, only that they could legally proceed with the suit, which argues that the 30% commission Apple charges on every app sale is a consumer-borne cost imposed by a monopolistic company. That case could potentially open Apple up to a class-action settlement or a loosening on its absolute grip on the sale of apps for its devices.
Apple had argued that it was protected from such a suit by a 1977 Supreme Court case, Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, which found that consumers couldn’t sue a party who had overcharged a third party that passed the cost on. The court Monday found that because Apple sells apps directly to consumers, the consumers can sue.