Last week, the Supreme Court remanded a privacy class action settlement to the Ninth Circuit over concerns about the named plaintiffs’ standing. Specifically, the Court ordered the Ninth Circuit to conduct a Spokeo analysis to determine whether any of the three named plaintiff’s suffered a concrete injury as a result of Google’s alleged violation of the Stored Communications Act. As a brief reminder, the Court held in Spokeo v. Robbins in 2015 that a technical or procedural violation of a statute is insufficient to meet the “concrete injury” requirement of Article III standing absent actual harm to the plaintiff. Even in cases where Congress has created a private right of action for plaintiffs to pursue violations of a statute, the Court held that does not mean the plaintiff has automatically suffered actual harm or an actual injury due to a statutory violation. In the case at bar, the Court said it could not rule on the validity of the class action settlement before these standing issues presented by Spokeo were addressed by the Ninth Circuit, which issues it also declined to decide.

In another branch of government, freshman Representative Katie Porter highlighted the Spokeo standard without naming it last month in a hearing of the Financial Services Committee, and also seemed to call its conclusion into question. During a round of questioning of a CEO facing a data breach class action lawsuit, Rep. Porter asked him why the company’s lawyers were arguing in court filings that the data breach did not cause harm to consumers, when the CEO himself was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of sharing his own personal information with the Committee.
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After eleven years of litigation, including two decisions by the Connecticut Supreme Court, Byrne v. Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, P.C. has finally reached a verdict. Last month, the jury awarded the plaintiff $853,000 in damages in connection with her physician practice’s 2005 release of medical records in response to a non-HIPAA compliant subpoena.

As the number of data breaches increases, so do the number of data breach-related lawsuits, whether styled as class actions or individual lawsuits. To the extent these lawsuits are commenced in the federal courts, it gives rise to the question of what satisfies Article III standing. Merely because a data breach may have occurred and personally identifiable information may have been exposed, or is at risk of being exposed, does not necessarily confer standing of the party whose information has been compromised in the absence of actual harm. As with most litigations, the answer also depends, at least in part, in what jurisdiction the lawsuit is commenced.

In Gilot v. Equivity, 18-CV-3492 (WFK), 2018 WL 3653150, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. July 31, 2018), the district court reinforced the Second Circuit’s position on what is required for a plaintiff to have Article III standing. In Gilot, an action commenced by an individual was dismissed for lack of standing where it was only alleged that the unauthorized release of her personally identifiable information to a third party without her consent could lead to potential identity theft. The words “could” and “potential” are important because in the Second Circuit, as in the First, Third and Eighth Circuits, having been put at risk, without actual harm, is insufficient to confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff.

The Eleventh Circuit generally follows the First, Second, Third, and Eighth Circuits; however, the threshold for damages to confer standing is lower. In Muransky v. Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., 905 F.3d 1200 (11th Cir. 2018), the plaintiff alleged that the merchant violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) by printing an untruncated receipt with more than five digits of the customer’s credit card number. This statutory violation was sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss for lack of standing since it constituted damages in the form of the plaintiff needing to bear the cost of safely keeping or disposing of the receipt to avoid someone obtaining the credit card number.
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Nielsen, famed global information and measurement company, was hit last week with a shareholder lawsuit in the Southern District of New York alleging that the EU’s new privacy regulation is to blame for missed targets in its Q2 earnings report, and that Nielsen should have known the hit was coming. The proposed class action claims