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Readers, don’t miss this exciting upcoming regional CLE program in San Francisco.  It’s a great opportunity to network with judges, academics, in-house lawyers and private practitioners who share a passion for class actions and mass tort litigation.  See below for a link to the registration page.  Hope to see you there!

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO REGISTER

Who’s in Charge Here?: The Role of Lawyers, Clients, Insurers, and Judges in Class Actions and Mass Tort Litigation

Presented by the Class Actions and Derivatives Suits, Consumer Litigation, and Mass Torts Committees

Date and Time: Thursday, June 19, 2014, 12:00pm – 7:00pm

Location: University of San Francisco Law School, San Francisco, CA

Synopsis:

The Gulf Oil Spill, the 9-11 terrorist attacks, massive product recalls and credit card data breaches—these and other large-scale conflicts generate correspondingly massive litigation, requiring courts, parties, attorneys, and insurers to adapt to increasingly complex challenges. For this half-day CLE event, we have assembled a distinguished group of judges, academics, mediators, and counsel to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the various stakeholders.

Our all-star panels will explore ethical and other standards for selecting and evaluating named class representatives; coverage and other current issues surrounding consumer data breach class actions; the balancing of individual plaintiffs’ interests in settlement of mass tort cases; and cutting-edge case management techniques gleaned for among the most tragic mass disasters of our time—the 9-11 attacks and the Gulf Oil Spill.

We are pleased to feature the Hon. Alvin Hellerstein, U.S. District Court for the S.D. of New York—who presided over the 9-11 cases; the Hon. Jon Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the N.D. of California; Tara Kelly, inside counsel at British Petroleum (Houston); Prof. Deborah Hensler of Stanford Law School; Assoc. Dean Joshua Davis of the University of San Francisco School of Law; and Jocelyn Larkin, Executive Director of the Impact Fund (Berkley), among our distinguished panelists. Lunch will be provided, and the program will be followed by a sponsored cocktail hour, providing ample opportunities for networking. Come join us for an enlightening afternoon.

Program Highlights:

  • Whose Class Is It Anyway? –The Policy, Practice, and Ethics Behind the Search for Named Plaintiffs (Ethics CLE Credit Applied for)
  • Recent Developments in Data Privacy Class Actions and Insurance Coverage
  • It’s The Trees Not the Forest – Considering Individual Interests in Mass Torts Settlements
  • Judicial Quasi-Class Actions – Managing MDL and mass tort litigation through judicial control over the appointment of lead counsel, attorneys’ fees, and cost-shifting

Faculty:

  • Hon Alvin K. Hellerstein, U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York
  • Hon Jon S. Tigar, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
  • Professor Joshua Davis, University of San Francisco Law School
  • Professor Deborah Hensler, Stanford University Law School
  • Tara Kelly, British Petroleum, Houston, Texas
  • Thomas Kang, ACE North American Professional Risk, Los Angeles
  • Catherine Yanni, JAMS, San Francisco
  • Jocelyn Larkin, Impact Fund, San Francisco
  • Sheila Birnbaum, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, New York, New York
  • Paul Karlsgodt, BakerHostetler, Denver, Colorado (Program Co-Chair)
  • Linda D. Kornfeld, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, Los Angeles
  • Karen Menzies, Robinson Calcagnie Robinson Shapiro Davis, Newport Beach
  • Andrew McGuinness, Ann Arbor, Michigan (Program Co-Chair)
  • Rudy Perrino, Walsworth Franklin Bevins & McCall, Los Angeles
  • Rosemarie Ring, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, San Francisco
  • Christina Terplan, Clyde & Co., San Francisco
  • Timothy Tomasik, Tomasik Kotin Kasserman, Chicago, Illinois
  • Donna L. Wilson, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Los Angeles

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Work commitments have prevented me from posting over the past week, but I wanted to take the opportunity to point out that there have been some notable developments in the privacy class action area over the past week.  Judy Selby covered these developments in a recent blog post for the BakerHostetler Class Action Defense and Data Privacy Monitor blogs.  Selby’s post, titled Hannaford v. comScore – Up and Down Results for Privacy Class Action Defendants, compares and contrasts two recent decisions, one granting and one denying class certification, in privacy cases.

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According to an article in the Korea JoongAng Daily, a Korean court has issued the first ever judgment in a collective action arising out of a data breach caused by alleged mismanagement of the data, as opposed to intentional conduct.  The Seoul Western District Court’s judgment in favor of 2,882 petitioners against SK Communications was for a total of approximately USD 534,200.   Although the amount may be insignificant by U.S. standards, the judgment reflects a key development in the development of both collective litigation and privacy law abroad.

Postscript: for more on the case, see this story published February 19.

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My colleagues at BakerHostetler have put together some great content on several class action-related topics recently that readers should find interesting.

First, the Baker Hostetler Class Action Defense Team issued an executive alert today discussing the Supreme Court’s decision to grant certiorari in another case involving class arbitration waivers.  The alert, titled U.S. Supreme Court Considers Arbitration Clauses and Class Actions Next Year, summarizes the issues to be addressed in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter.  The alert was authored by newly elected Cleveland Partner Ruth E. Hartman and Class Action Defense Team Leader Ernie Vargo.

Another executive alert, titled Recent Trends in Class Actions for Telephone and Fax Solicitation and Advertising, was issued last week by the Privacy and Data Protection and Class Action Defense Teams.   The alert, authored by my colleague in Denver, Justin Winquist, summarizes the latest trends in class action litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

Finally, my partner Casie Collignon authored a blog post yesterday with an update on the latest in the ongoing saga of Dukes v. Wal-Mart on remand following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.  The post is entitled, California District Court Awaits Class Certification Motion in Wal-Mart.

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Those of you who enjoyed the recent CAB summary of the presentation on privacy class actions at the ABA’s 16th Annual Class Actions Institute will be interested to know that the re-submitted settlement agreement in Fraley v. Facebook, No. No. C 11-1726 RS (N.D. Cal) was preliminarily approved Monday by Judge Richard Seeborg.  Here is a link to a Reuters article by Jessica Dye summarizing the settlement and the court’s decision.

 

 

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This is the fifth of what will be six posts summarizing my notes of the six presentations at the ABA’s 16th Annual Class Actions Institute held last month in Chicago.  For more on this excellent conference, see my October 31, November 5, November 6, and November 18 CAB posts.

Session 4 was one of the highlights of the conference for me, as it covered a hot area of class action litigation that has recently become a focus of my own practice and likely a focus for many readers of this blog: privacy class actions.  It was titled “My Kind of Case, Pri-va-cy Claims,” The Hottest New Trend in Class-Action Litigation.  Fred Burnside moderated another excellent panel, which consisted of his partner Stephen M. Rummage, who offered a defense view, Jay Edelson, who offered the plaintiff’s view, and the Honorable James F. Holderman, who offered insights from the bench.

Privacy cases can roughly be broken down into two categories: 1) cases involving alleged negligence, such was when consumer data is stolen or compromised through hacking or theft, and 2) intentional breaches of privacy, such as through the sale of private information for marketing purposes.  The panel covered both types of cases.

Data Breach Cases Arising Out of Alleged Negligence

Much of the early jurisprudence in this area has related to the question of whether a breach of privacy without any financial loss is a cognizable injury sufficient to confer standing on a plaintiff.  In general, many of the federal district courts that have dismissed data breach class actions due to a failure to allege or prove injury have done on Article III standing grounds.  However, there are signs that this tide could be turning.  A specific example is the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., No. 11-13694 (11th Cir. Sept. 5, 2012), in which the court overturned the dismissal of a data breach complaint on the grounds that allegations of actual identity theft resulting from information on a stolen computer was sufficient injury to confer standing. 

The Resnick decision also illustrates a developing theory of relief in data breach cases, which is the theory that a failure to protect customer data amounts to unjust enrichment or breach of an implied contract.  One of the theories in Resnick was that a portion of the health insurance premiums that the plaintiff had paid to the defendant was in exchange for the defendant’s promise to safeguard the plaintiff’s private information and that the defendant would be unjustly enriched by being allowed to keep the full value of the premiums due to its alleged failure to protect the data from theft.  The Eleventh Circuit held, without discussion, that these allegations were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss a claim for breach of implied contract or unjust enrichment under Florida law, although it upheld the dismissal of claims for negligence per se and for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

In contrast to Resnick is a recent federal district court decision dismissing claims arising out of a Sony Gaming Networks breach (link courtesy of Law360).  The case was largely dismissed under FRCP 12(b)(6) due to the plaintiffs’ inability to allege an injury resulting from the breach.  One key difference between the two cases seems to be the inability of the plaintiffs in the Sony case to allege any identity theft resulting from the breach.  The probability of a dismissal for lack of injury or standing in a data breach class action does appear to be higher where there is no evidence of identity theft or other use of any compromised information.  Similarly, allegations of across-the-class-damages, such as those brought under a breach of contract theory, have fared better than allegations of individualized damages, such as identity theft.   

Intentional Privacy Breach and Statutory Damages Cases

An area creating a unique set of problems is privacy class actions seeking statutory damages, such as class actions seeking damages under the Video Protection Privacy Act, or VPPA.  Several high-profile cases have been filed against Netflix, Best Buy, and others under this statute, which provides for $2,500 per violation in statutory damages. 

The problem for all parties in these types of cases is that the statutory damages, when aggregated over hundreds, thousands, or even millions of consumers, can become crippling to the defendant, making a settlement at even close to the maximum aggregate value of the claims a practical impossibility. 

This creates a problem in settlement approval: how is a court supposed to judge what settlement  amount is reasonable in a case where the damages sought would be crippling if the plaintiff were to win at trial?

The case of Murray v. GMAC Mortgage Corporation, 434 F.3d 948 (7th Cir. 2006) provides a good illustration of this dilemma.  The case involved a potentially crushing recovery of statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  The trial court had declined to approve a settlement that would have resulted in a $3,000 award for the named plaintiff, or three times the maximum statutory damages award, and potentially leaving less than $1 for each of the remaining class members, or less than 1% of the minimum statutory award.  The Seventh Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision, but it punted on the question of what would be a reasonable settlement given the “ruinously high” statutory damages at stake in the case.  The Murray case does seem to stand for the proposition that you can’t just pluck a number out of the air in setting a settlement amount.

A more recent example was the proposed settlement in Fraley v. Facebook, No. No. C 11-1726 RS (N.D. Cal).  An initial settlement proposal that provided for a $10 million cy presaward and no cash payments to class members was rejected in August.  See this link to Order Denying Motion for Preliminary Approval courtesy of consumerwatchdog.org.  In that order, Judge Seeborg made the following observation about the quandary presented in the case:

The issue this presents appears to be a novel one: Can a cy pres-only settlement be justified on the basis that the class size is simply too large for direct monetary relief? Or, notwithstanding the strong policy favoring settlements, are some class actions simply too big to settle? 

Under a revised proposed settlement, each claimant would be entitled to receive up to $10, but if the total claims plus the attorneys’ fee award exceeds the entire $20 million amount available under the settlement, the claims will be reduced pro rata.  If there are so many claims that the per claim amount became less than $5, then the Judge will have discretion to decide to award the funds to a charity as a cy pres award.  Another unique facet of the revised settlement is that Facebook is allowed to challenge the attorneys’ fee amount requested by plaintiffs’ counsel.

The panelists discussed Edelson’s struggle in attempting to bring class actions under the California “Shine the Light” law, which requires companies to disclose to whom they are selling customers’ information.  Edelson said he has lost almost all of those cases, but he is hopeful of a turnaround in the appellate courts.  This let to a broader point about the development of privacy class actions.  New theories have traditionally been unsuccessful at the trial court level, but oftentimes patience and perseverance has paid off for the plaintiffs’ bar.

One common type of privacy-related statutory damages class action is class actions under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which prohibits unsolicited faxes and automated telephone calls.  Edelson noted that cases under the TCPA are settling for between  $150-400 per unsolicited fax/call.  The statutory damages amount is $500 per unsolicited fax or call, and $1,500 for willful violations.  A trend in TCPA cases, especially in the Ninth Circuit, has been TCPA class actions based on unsolicited text messages.

In general, intentional privacy cases tend to be good certification cases, and the real battles tend to be on the merits.  However, even in statutory damages cases, there can still be defenses to class certification.  Ascertainability of the class can often be an issue.  For example, the question of whether a given class member consented to certain types of direct marketing or the release of private information to third parties can often be an individualized question that prevents class certification. 

A common question that arises in statutory damages cases is whether the named plaintiff must prove some sort of injury to herself and/or members of the putative class in order to recover statutory damages.  In some situations, courts have held that no proof of injury is required at all for the recovery of statutory damages.  There are generally two standing questions 1) is there constitutional standing to sue; and 2) is there statutory standing under the statute on which the claims are based.  One justification that plaintiffs offer for why statutory damages would be awarded without proof of injury is that is provides a means of disgorging ill-gotten gains from the defendant.

Parting Thoughts

The panel offered some good advice for practitioners, including the following kernels of wisdom: 1) Understand that privacy cases strike a particular nerve with both consumers and courts; people don’t like the idea that their private information is being used for an improper purpose(this is an area where plaintiffs’ lawyers often don’t have much difficulty convincing plaintiffs to participate in the legal process); 2) Counsel your clients upfront on privacy issues to avoid the situation where a class action becomes an issue.  2) Keep track of what Jay Edelson is doing to make sure you are up on the latest trends. 

In closing, the panel offered thoughts on the problem of statutory damages being aggregated into excessive damages amounts that a defendant is unlikely to pay in settlement and a court is unlikely to ever award.  If nobody thinks that a plaintiff should get $1 billion for a mere technical statutory violation, then why not change the law to reflect what the plaintiff really be able to recover?  One of the problems in this area is that the techology moves much faster than the legislative process.  Congress is always passing legislation to deal with an old problem.

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This is not class action related, but it is blawg related.

I will be participating in a CLE webcast on July 27, 2012, which has the working title Social Media for Lawyers: Do’s, Don’ts, Why Nots, and You Probably Shouldn’ts.  The will be presented by the West LegalEdCenter.  My co-panelists will be Kristine Scott, Corporate Compliance Director – Privacy, for Aon Service Corporation, and fellow class action blogger H. Scott Leviant of The Complex Litigator.  Below is a brief summary of the program.  I’ll post more details as soon as they are available.  We hope you can join us!

In this webcast, our panel will address the common ethical and legal pitfalls associated with the growing use of blogs, Twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media in law firms and corporate environments.  The three unique perspectives  offered by the panelists on this timely subject will provide useful information for both in-house lawyers and private practitioners in a variety of firm sizes and practice areas. 

Part I will address the unique ethical issues facing the plaintiffs’-oriented or small firm lawyer.  Issues include the ethics of “friending” judges, how to ethically use social media in advertising, whether to segregate personal and professional social media use, how to provide legal commentary without giving legal advice, selecting social media based on practice type (one size does not fit all), and the circumstances under which it is appropriate to use social media to publicize events in a pending case.

Part II will address ethical and risk management issues facing corporate lawyers and executives.  Topics to be addressed in Part II include best practices in social media policies, the use of social media by employers in vetting potential employees, protection of employee or customer privacy, and how and when it is appropriate for an employer to  monitor employee social media use.

Part III will focus on ethical issues for large firms and lawyers in large firms.  Topics include maintaining a level of appropriate decorum without boring your audience, when and how to talk about clients in social media, the danger of “issues” conflicts and other conflicts of interest, and best practices in law blog comments policies and disclaimers.

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