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Thursday, September 06, 2007, 06:55 am PT (09:55 am ET)

Apple escalates iPhone battery suit to federal court

Hoping to level the playing field for its legal defense, Apple, Inc. has moved a lawsuit over allegedly deceptive iPhone battery claims to a federal court.

Filed this past Friday, the action would remove Jose Truijllo's pioneering suit from its original home in a state court in Cook County, Illinois to a federal institution for the Northern District of Illinois. Trujillo had originally filed a suit in early August that charged Apple and AT&T with concealing an alleged need to replace the cellphone's battery every year while locking customers into a two-year service contract.

Apple was able to make the shift under a recent but increasingly used law known as the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, or CAFA. Under the terms of the law, any suit whose defendants are based in a different state from the plaintiff, and where damages would total over $5 million, can be moved to the federal level. According to California-based Apple, using the more cautious estimates of Trujillo's complaint would easily amount to over $17 million before factoring in punitive damages — in essence, the equivalent of at least 200,000 4GB iPhones and their battery replacement bills.

The nature of the law allows the iPhone maker to transfer the suit to a different court without any input from the plaintiff, according to CAFA's terms. While this may seem unfair to a casual observer, the Act is designed to prevent the potential biases in judgment that might stem from a trial outside of the defendant's home territory. A federal court would be more likely to consider a case involving multi-state parties objectively, says the reasoning behind the statute.

Co-defendendant AT&T has yet to comment on the decision, but its involvement isn't required; CAFA allows any defendant to remove a case without the agreement of any other companies named in the suit.

And while Apple has had to list the damages it might owe, the transfer notice makes it clear that the company isn't admitting any guilt in the process. In Apple's view, the case would tilt in the defendants' favor regardless of where it took place.

"Apple disputes [the] Plaintiff's allegations, believes the Complaint lacks merit, and denies that [the] Plaintiff or the putative class have been harmed in any way," the company's lawyers said.