A federal judge has dismissed a Year 2000-related lawsuit filed against Microsoft . by an Illinois woman who claimed the company negligently designed software containing a defect in the way it will handle data after the turn of the century.
The dismissal is the latest victory by companies fighting Y2K litigation as the millennium approaches.
In its ruling Friday, the court said Microsoft had included features in its FoxPro database that allowed it to function properly in the year 2000.
"As we near the 21st Century, the media has focused on may potential Y2K problems," wrote US District Court Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois. "This focus will inevitably lead to much litigation... which the courts will need to determine is meritful or meritless. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, we find this lawsuit falls into the latter category."
The lawsuit was filed as a class action by Ruth Kaczmarek of Naperville, Illinois.
Microsoft argued that FoxPro adequately accounted for Y2K problems by including a product feature called the Century function. When the Century button is set to "On," FoxPro accepts and can correctly process dates into the next century. When it is set to "Off," it assumes two-digit years to be within the 20th Century.
"Kaczmarek's main problem is that there is nothing inherently wrong with computer software that assumes that a two-digit year entry means the 20th century, particularly when the default setting is disclosed as part of the contract," the judge wrote in the ruling. "Moreover, FoxPro is Y2K-compliant: a developer can set the Century feature to 'On' to provide a four-digit-year field when a client needs an application that will process dates occurring later than Dec. 31, 1999 -- something, we assume, is occurring with greater frequency as that date approaches."
Microsoft said the ruling will help deter groundless litigation over Y2K issues.
"This is an important win for Microsoft," said Andy Culbert, a company attorney. "This case shows that Microsoft has acted in a responsible and pro-consumer manner with respect to its products and the year 2000."
A lawyer who represented Kaczmarek was resigned to accepting the court ruling.
"The judge ruled as a matter of law that there was no defect (in FoxPro)," said Arthur Gold of Gold & Rosenfeld, based in Chicago. "That's not what our people told us, but he's the boss."
Despite Microsoft's apparent victory, it is still too early for legal precedents to develop over Y2K litigation, said Devin O'Brien, an attorney at Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft, a law firm that is tracking Y2K lawsuits.
"The problem with much of the Y2K litigation is people haven't suffered much yet," O'Brien said. "The courts have said, 'You're early. If you get harmed come back.'"
Roughly 50 lawsuits have been filed over Y2K issues nationwide, according to O'Brien. Judges have dismissed several lawsuits filed in California and New York against Intuit Inc.'s Quicken personal finance software.
Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or at http://www.microsoft.com/