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Judge rejects class action status in suit over Apple's iMessage

In a win for Apple, a judge reportedly rules the lawsuit alleging the company's messaging service holds onto texts once a user switches to an Android device does not merit group status.

Apple's instruction page for deregistering iPhones from the iMessage system. Screenshot by Steven Musil/CNET

Apple got a partial victory this week in a lawsuit over text messages.

In a ruling handed down Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said that a lawsuit accusing Apple of not delivering text messages sent from iOS devices to Android devices could not proceed as a class action suit, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

The ruling is important for Apple -- class action status would have opened the floodgates for multiple people to participate, making a loss or settlement all the more costly.

Filed by Samsung phone owner Adrienne Moore in 2014, the suit argues that Apple kept text messages sent from its iMessage system to Android users from arriving without notifying either the sender or receiver of the glitch.

Apple's iMessage text messaging feature allows iOS users to text other iOS users without eating up their data allowance. But apparently an issue occurs if you dump your iOS device and jump ship to Android. Since iMessage rolled out in 2011, many former iPhone users and now Android users say that texts sent to them using iMessage fall into some hole where they're never delivered, even though the sender thinks they've reached their destination.

The glitch shows the potential pitfalls when using different text messaging apps among different mobile operating systems. That's one reason why apps such as WhatsApp have become popular, as they use one single text messaging service for all users.

Apple has suggested workarounds for the problem. One fix is to deactivate iMessage in the settings panel of your iPhone before switching over the SIM card or phone number to a new Android phone. However, that fix hasn't worked for a number of affected users. Another workaround is to ask iPhone users to delete you as a contact and then re-add you in the attempt to wipe out the iMessage connection between the two phone numbers.

The lawsuit said that Apple neglected to reveal that switching to a non-iOS device could result in the non-delivery of text messages, further claiming that customers who did switch from Apple were "penalized and unable to obtain the full benefits of their wireless-service contracts."

Moore had been seeking class action status to incorporate other users affected by the problem, but Judge Koh's ruling has shot down her request. Koh said that the case could not proceed as a class action suit because it wasn't clear that all the proposed members of the lawsuit were inconvenienced as a result of any "contractual breach or interference" due to the iMessage system, Bloomberg reported.

Though the class action status was squashed, that doesn't mean the individual lawsuit by Moore is going away. Last November, Koh said that Moore has the right to attempt to prove that Apple did in fact obstruct her use of an Android phone and hampered full use of her Verizon contract.

"Plaintiff does not have to allege an absolute right to receive every text message in order to allege that Apple's intentional acts have caused an 'actual breach or disruption of the contractual relationship,'" Koh wrote at the time.