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Along with my colleague, Jacqueline Matthews, I recently authored a commentary on the possible changes to the rule on issue classes, Rule 23(c)(4), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that were proposed recently in a report issued by the Rule 23 Subcommittee.  Our commentary was among several articles on the Subcommittee’s proposals published by the ABA Section of Litigation’s Class Actions and Derivative Suits Committee (CADS), all of which I strongly recommend.  Please visit the link below to see our article, and if you aren’t already a CADS member, you should strongly consider becoming one.

 

 

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HarrisMartin’s Data Breach Litigation Conference: The Coming of Age is scheduled for next Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at the Westin San Diego.  I’ll be speaking on a panel titled Creative Approaches to Settling Data Breach Cases with Ben Barnow of Barnow and Associates, P.C., Chicago.  So, the news this week was very timely that Target has reached a settlement in the consumer class actions arising out of its massive payment card breach.  Because a few clients and colleagues on both sides of the bar have asked for my opinion about the settlement, I thought I’d share a few thoughts here.

Settlements in data breach cases have been fairly rare up to this point, as many data breach cases have met their doom at the pleadings stage due to the inability of plaintiffs to show injury-in-fact sufficient to give them standing.  Payment Card cases have been an exception because there are real financial losses to consumers that can flow naturally from a hacking incident.  Importantly, these losses generally do not include the amount of any fraudulent card transactions because federal law limits consumer liability to $50 and the major card brands go further and impose $0 liability requirements on issuing banks.  However, other incidental losses, such as replacement card fees, interest, finance charges by other companies due to missed payments, to name a few, can result from a payment card breach.  For this reason, claims in several payment card class actions, including Target (Target Order on Motion to Dismiss) have survived motions to dismiss, leading many defendants to settle these cases.  Payment card class actions against Heartland Payment Systems, TJ Maxx, Michaels Stores, and others were all resolved by class-wide settlements.

The Target Settlement has been praised and derided by the mainstream and legal trade media with a host of characterizations ranging from “huge” to “affordable” to “tiny.”  In fact, Target’s settlement is not particularly groundbreaking beyond the media attention that it has garnered.  Instead, it shares many of the features of the payment card settlements that came before it, and it is not significantly different in terms of its cost or in terms of the benefits it would provide to consumers, if finally approved.

Here is a summary of some of the key features of the settlement:

Overall Costs to Target

Claims Fund.  Target is to pay $10M to create a fund to pay consumers who claim certain out-of-pocket losses and time spent in connection with those losses (discussed in more detail below).  The fund is non-reversionary, meaning unclaimed funds don’t go back to the defendant.  Instead, the agreement contemplates that the court will decide who unclaimed funds are to be distributed.  (For a discussion of how courts can deal with unclaimed funds, see this February 2010 CAB post.)

Attorneys’ Fees.  The plaintiffs will request court approval of up to $6.75M in fees.  Target may object to the initial request, but it may not appeal any decision by the trial court to award $6.75M or less.  Target must pay the fees awarded in addition to the $10M fund.

Settlement Expenses.  Target must pay for all settlement administrative expenses in addition to claims fund and fees.  This includes the expenses to provide both published and direct notice of the settlement to affected customers and the costs to administer claims and make payments to claimants if the settlement is finally approved.  For a class size as large as Target’s these costs can easily measure in the millions of dollars.

Total Payment by Target.  So, my guess it that the total payout by Target is likely to be closer to $19M, assuming the full amount of fees are approved.

Settlement Benefits to Consumers 

One of the attachments to the Settlement Agreement is a Distribution Plan that generally outlines the benefits available to claimants.  The Distribution Plan doesn’t itemize every conceivable loss that might qualify for compensation, but it attaches sample claim forms that give more insight into the specific benefits that are contemplated.  Most of the categories of reimbursable losses are similar to those provided for in other payment card settlements.  Here’s a summary, with some comments on each category:

  • Payment for unreimbursed, out-of-pocket expenses, with a $10,000 cap per claim – Note that due to the zero consumer liability rules on fraud losses, combined with the fact that payment card information cannot be used to commit other forms of identity theft, it is extremely unlikely that any individual person will have a claim for an amount near the cap.  If it were otherwise, then the fund would only be sufficient to pay 1000 claims.  Other payment card settlements have included individual caps for the most typical types of expenses, which rarely exceed $200 or so, with a separate fund available for extraordinary claims.  The Target settlement omits this smaller cap, perhaps because experience has shown that it is generally unnecessary to control unreasonable or fraudulent claims.
  • Payment for 2 hours of time at $10/hour associated with each type of actual loss claimed – Payments for time are an interesting feature of payment card settlements.  Because of the zero consumer liability for fraud loss imposed by the card brands, mere lost time and aggravation make up the vast majority of consumer impact in a payment card breach.  However, time and inconvenience are generally not considered injuries for which damages can be recovered, so by agreeing to pay for lost time, the defendant is agreeing to pay for something that the plaintiffs probably couldn’t recover if the case went to trial.  Nonetheless, there is nothing preventing defendants from offering these benefits in a class action settlement setting, and it has become common for defendants to offer payments for lost time.  Because claims for time are susceptible to fraud and abuse and are difficult to document, the amounts available tend to be limited to 1-3 hours.  Based on the sample claim form, the Target settlement seems to allow claims for time spent correcting fraudulent charges, but it doesn’t appear to allow claims for lost time resulting from card replacement (for example, having to change the number on automatic or recurring payments), which is something that affects far more consumers than fraud itself in the aftermath of a payment card breach.  Other payment card settlements have allowed claims for lost time for either fraud or for dealing with replacement card issues.
  • Two different types of claim forms – The settlement contemplates the ability to elect either a documented or undocumented claim.  Documented claims get priority in payment.  From a defendant’s perspective, undocumented claims are problematic, because they are susceptible to fraud and abuse.  From a consumer’s perspective, having to document claims is an added aggravation, on top of the aggravation  of having had to deal with the impact of the breach in the first place.  This structure offers a compromise that permits undocumented claims, but ensures that those claims that are documented will be paid first.

As a practical matter, given the size of the fund, it is likely that there will be plenty of money to pay all documented claims and all plausible undocumented claims.  In fact, in view of past settlements, it is extraordinarily unlikely that the amount of all legitimate claims will get even close to the $10 million available in the fund.  In the Heartland Payment Systems settlement, for example, arising out of an incident that impacted 130 million card holder accounts, the number of claims for reimbursement amounted to a grand total of $1925.  (See Judge Rosenthal’s Order in Heartland Payment Systems).  This miniscule claims amount was due undoubtedly to a lack of public familiarity with Heartland (a payment processor) as a brand and with the incident itself, two things that are certainly not true of Target, and claims rates in other settlements have certainly been higher despite having much smaller numbers of potential class members.  However, various media outlets have quoted a RAND Corporation researcher as estimating that less than $1 million of the $10 million fund will be claimed (see, for example, this article by Jason Abbruzzese at Mashable).

If he’s right, expect a fight ahead on what should happen with the $9M in unclaimed funds which, according to the agreement, “shall be distributed by the Settlement Administrator as directed by the Court.”  Cy pres anyone?

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BakerHostetler’s 2014 Year-End Review of Class Actions (and what to expect in 2015) was published on February 2, and is available for download at the firm’s website.  This annual summary is a joint effort of numerous attorneys throughout the firm, but for the second year in a row, the 2014 edition was ably edited by Dustin Dow in the firm’s Cleveland Office.

As the title suggests, the 59-page document provides a comprehensive update on the key decisions and trends in a variety of subject matter areas, including consumer protection, insurance, banking, data privacy, antitrust, securities, and labor and employment, as well the latest procedural developments impacting class action practice, both throughout the United States and abroad.

It’s free, so don’t miss it!

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Anyone still checking this site will have noticed a complete lack of new content lately, which is mostly the result of pure laziness on my part but partially due to the demands of several other writing projects I’ve been working on.  I’m pleased to announce that one of these articles it out, and the folks at Practical Law the Journal have graciously given permission for me to post a reprint here.  Click the following link to view the article, entitled Key Issues in Data Breach Litigation, which is featured in the October 2014 issue.  Please be sure to visit the Practical Law website to learn how to subscribe to more great content on timely legal topics.

Also, speaking of data privacy litigation, I’ll be part of a panel presenting on the topic at the ABA Institute on Class Actions next week in Chicago.  It’s not too late to register.

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Renowned notice expert and friend of ClassActionBlawg.com, Shannon Wheatman of Kinsella Media, recently published an article with some insightful tips on ensuring successful notice in class action settlements.  In the article, titled Cutting Through the Clutter: Eight Tips for Capturing Class Members’ Attention and Increasing Response, Dr. Wheatman shares eight specific ideas for ensuring meaningful notice in an age of ever-increasing media fragmentation.  For more information and to download a copy, click the title of the article above.

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In recent years, academics outside of the United States have made some of the most valuable contributions to the development of legal theory of class actions and other collective litigation.  Here are two examples of recent works by thought leaders in this area:

INDIVIDUAL STANDING IN CLASS ACTIONS (A LEGITIMIDADE DO INDIVÍDUO NAS AÇÕES COLETIVAS)

Author: Larissa Clare Pochmann da Silva (Master in Law in UNESA, Doctorate in Law student at UNESA and Professor of Complex Litigation and Civil Procedure at UCAM – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Abstract (translated from Portuguese):

Individual Standing in Class Actions offers an important and interesting approach to the question of standing, one of the most important themes relating to the development of Brazilian class actions.

The first part the book summarizes research on foreign law, inquiring into the state of the art of collective protection throughout Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico), in the United States and Canada, in the European Union (Germany, France, England and Italy) and in Australia.  Part two offers a comparative analysis of these jurisdictions’ various approaches to standing.

Part three organizes the main objections to representational standing and argues for laws recognizing the standing of individuals to sue in a representative capacity, demonstrating the reasons for its relevance, and the important role to be played by lawyers in class actions.

Finally, the book addresses the question of the participation of the individual from various perspectives, seeking to offer a systematic framework for the standing discussion and proposals for the improvement of collective protection in Brazil.

The result is a work that contributes to the development and strengthening of collective action law in Brazilian and brings a new perspective of modernization and improvement of tools for access to justice and the effectiveness of the process.

Pochmann da Silva’s book is available at http://www.editoragz.com.br/produto.asp?prodId=199.

 

AN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF RELIANCE IN MARKET FRAUD AND NEGLIGENT MISREPRESENTATION

Authors: Alon Klement and Yuval Procaccia (Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah – Radzyner School of Law, Israel)

Abstract:

A deeply entrenched principle in the law of fraud and negligent misrepresentation provides that damages can be recovered only upon a showing of reliance. To prevail, plaintiffs must not only establish the mere falsity of a statement, but also show that they had acted upon the statement and sustained injury as a consequence.

Despite the intuitive appeal of this principle, this paper argues that the reliance requirement ought to be abandoned. Harm can be caused by a misrepresentation without reliance, and recovery for such loss should not be barred. When a firm misrepresents an attribute of a product, its price in equilibrium typically rises. The inflated price is an injury caused to all consumers, relying and non-relying alike. A rule restricting recovery to only relying consumers results in inadequate deterrence of the firm, which in turn spurs a host of inefficient effects: it may distort allocative efficiency; encourage investments by firms in the production of fraud; induce investments by consumers in self-protection efforts and in detrimental reliance investments; and prompt competing firms to invest excessively in signaling. Furthermore, it undermines deterrence by erecting a substantial barrier to private enforcement through class actions.

While the discussion focuses on consumer markets, it applies more broadly to other markets and other market structures. We explicitly discuss its extension to security markets, in which the requirement has been famously revoked. While the analysis supports existing policy in the domain of primary security markets, it does not do so in the context of secondary markets.

Klement and Procaccia’s article is available for download at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2372922

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Gonzalo Zeballos and I recently authored an article for Commercial Dispute Resolution Magazine’s “Expert Views” series entitled America’s Closing Doors.  The article examines recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on extraterritorial jurisdiction of the federal courts, and the potential future role of the U.S. courts in international class action litigation.  Click the title above for a link to the article, and be sure to check out the other insightful expert views on international litigation issues that CDR has to offer, including several on developments in international class action law.

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