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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling yesterday that will be a blow to plaintiffs seeking to sue call centers in class actions for violations of California’s Invasion of Privacy Law, Cal. Penal Code § 632 (sometimes called the “wiretapping” statute).  The law prohibits the recording or monitoring of confidential telephone calls without the caller’s consent.  It is an appealing basis for class action claims because it provides for statutory penalty of $5,000 per violation, creating the possibility of annihilating exposure in a case that involves a call center that handles thousands of customer calls.

In Faulkner v. ADT Security Services, Inc., the court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of a claim under the statute based on allegations that a call center for a security company recorded the call of a customer who called with a billing dispute.  The Ninth Circuit fell short of holding that a billing dispute with a security company could never qualify as a “confidential” communication giving rise to liability under the law, but it did observe that whether a particular call was confidential would require unique facts:

For example, a caller might be asked to verify his identity by confirming his social security number or his unlisted telephone number, or to disclose other private or potentially private information. If adequately pled, such facts might well support a finding of confidentiality.

Slip op. at 9, n.***.  The need to examine the particular content of each call to determine whether liability is present would in most cases create an individualized issue of fact preventing class certification.  So, although the ruling does not close the door on claims against call centers for violations of the Invasion of Privacy law, it presents a hurdle to the certification of potentially bankrupting class actions.

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