By Mike Scarcella
Nov 29 (Reuters) - T-Mobile US TMUS.O has asked a U.S. judge to let it immediately appeal an order that allowed AT&T and Verizon wireless subscribers to sue the company for billions of dollars in damages over its completed purchase of rival Sprint in 2020.
If granted, the Tuesday request would speed T-Mobile's efforts to fend off a prospective class action of tens of millions of U.S. wireless customers who contend the Sprint deal hurt industry competition and drove up prices for AT&T T.N and Verizon VZ.N customers, in violation of U.S. antitrust law.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin in Chicago on Nov. 2 declined to dismiss the case, finding the plaintiffs had met necessary legal thresholds to sue over the closed merger. He did not rule on the merits of the consumers' claims.
The private consumer lawsuit could threaten to undo T-Mobile's acquisition of Sprint, which survived a challenge in U.S. court from a group of states. The U.S. Justice Department separately reached a settlement with the merged company requiring some divestiture of assets.
T-Mobile and lawyers for the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
An attorney for the consumer plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a similar request.
The proposed class action was filed last year by seven AT&T or Verizon subscribers in Illinois and Indiana who called the T-Mobile-Sprint merger "one of the most anti-competitive acquisitions in history."
In its filing, T-Mobile said it wanted a ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether AT&T and Verizon consumers have legal standing to sue over the merger.
T-Mobile has no automatic right to an appeal now, and so Durkin must rule on the company's request.
"Plaintiffs' expansive conception of antitrust standing is unprecedented," lawyers for T-Mobile told Durkin. They said the Chicago-based 7th Circuit "has yet to squarely address such a boundless theory of antitrust standing."
They argued that being forced to litigate the case before an appellate ruling on standing could waste money and judicial resources.
T-Mobile also said any price hikes among its competitors' may have flowed from "intervening economic factors and strategic business decisions having nothing to do with the merger."
Representatives for Verizon and AT&T did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither company is a defendant in the case.
The case is Anthony Dale et al v. Deutsche Telekom AG et al, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, No. 1:22-cv-03189.
For plaintiffs: Brendan Glackin of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; attorneys from Hausfeld, Berger Montague and Kenneth N. Flaxman P.C.
For T-Mobile: Clifford Histed of K&L Gates and others; Rachel Brass of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and others
T-Mobile must face private antitrust lawsuit over $26 bln Sprint deal - US judge
(Reporting by Mike Scarcella)
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