Litigation After Devastation: The Legal Storm Surge

Bridges crumbling in Texas. Houses turned to toothpicks in the USVIs. Newly-formed rivers ravaging the streets in South Florida. The devastating destruction from the recent hurricanes that have pummeled the U.S. has uprooted many peoples’ homes and lives, but we have only begun to feel the impact of the surge.

Massive relief efforts have begun, national fundraising, news coverage, responsive legislation, and building codes to name a few. A litigation surge is swelling as well. We have seen several types of cases and class actions churn from a hurricane’s aftermath. Here are some of the types of cases, coverage issues, and expert needs you may see after the storm.

Property Damage and Meteorological Causation

Insurance companies insuring the Southern United States are bracing for the waves of claims that will soon be flooding in. Just as it was following Hurricanes Katrina, Ivan, and Sandy, the hotly-debated issue of whether the damage was caused by wind or water will be the likely focus. While most homeowner insurance policies will cover water damage that was caused by a roof or window that was compromised by wind and allowed water intrusion, most do not cover water that rises from the ground level and enters the home. Experts will be relied upon to determine how water got into a structure, even when it is entirely obliterated.

Insurance companies and attorneys will be looking for experts in meteorology, often with advanced degrees and testifying experience, who can opine on the types of weather conditions that might have existed at a given time in a given place (i.e., Key West when Hurricane Irma struck). The experts could come from academia or environmental institutes and societies. They will be asked to review various data points and speak on weather conditions at a particular time and place to support causation for insurance coverage. Structural engineers will also be needed, preferably with experience in standard insurance practices, procedures, and protocols in evaluating damage caused by hurricanes. They will need to have an understanding of insurance claims handling and will be asked to review various reports and data, some from other engineers, discussing damage caused to structures by the hurricane and opine as to whether or not the reports and data are accurate.

Structural Failures and Faulty Design/Construction

While many large, concrete commercial buildings and bridges are designed to withstand 150+ mph winds and flooding,  they can still be left severely damaged after a storm blows through. Structural failure of buildings, roofs, bridges, and roadways that were expected to withstand hurricane winds will lead to litigation over damage caused by the failure. Structural engineers with expertise in the types of structures at issue, likely licensed engineers, will be needed to examine damage patterns through photos, video, or via a post-storm on-scene inspection. They will also need to use meteorological wind information to determine the cause of the failure and the quality of the design or construction.

Class Actions for Coverage Determinations

Often, the core issues in insurance-related storm damage cases are similar across a wide span of policyholders. These cases will vary depending on the coverage matter at issue, but the most sought-after experts will be familiar with insurance claims standards, protocols, and policy interpretation. Construction experts may also be needed to opine on the necessity and extent of certain repairs required after a storm. Also, standard practices and interactions between contractors and insurance companies during the re-build process will come into question. Class actions may be filed as well, simply as placeholders to toll certain claims-filing deadlines or allow broader bad faith discovery against insurance companies who refuse to pay mass claims.

Litigation Over Price-Gouging

One of the worst scenarios to follow a storm is wide-scale price-gouging and scamming by companies trying to capitalize on the desperation and vulnerability of storm victims. Before the storm, many people preparing for power outages or evacuation will see unfair spikes in essentials such as water and gas. After the storm, shady contractors and tree-removers often flood in, lie about their licensing and credentials, and charge exorbitant fees while performing shoddy, haphazard work, or no work at all. Many states, including Florida, have made it a crime for any service provider to offer or sell essential commodities for an amount that “grossly exceeds the average price” during the thirty days following a declaration of emergency. In the days before Hurricane Irma’s approach, many reported price-gouging for essentials such as water, ice, batteries, and gas when thousands of Floridians were stocking up or evacuating. Class actions alleging price-gouging will likely occur following the storm. Experts in standard industry pricing, manufacture costs, and storm clean-up and repair may be called in to opine on the “average price” of certain essential commodities and post-storm services.

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are gearing up for the incumbent waves of litigation and expert requests we anticipate will follow. What types of cases, class actions, and expert needs are you expecting?

This post was written by Annie Dike of IMS ExpertServices, All Rights Reserved. © Copyright 2002-2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Uber Aims to Settle Two Class Actions; Approximately 385,000 Uber Drivers in California and Massachusetts to Remain Independent Contractors – At Least for Now

Last Thursday, Uber settled two closely-watched class actions contesting Uber’s classification of approximately 385,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts as independent contractors as opposed to employees. While the plaintiffs viewed the settlement as a victory, so likely did Uber, as it allows Uber to continue to pursue an on-demand independent contractor service business model.  The court, however, still needs to approve the settlement and whether it will do so is not clear.

As part of the proposed settlement, Uber agreed to pay $84 million to the drivers. If Uber holds an initial public offering and its valuation goes above $93.75 billion within one year, Uber will pay an additional $16 million to the drivers bringing the total settlement to $100 million.  After reducing the pot to account for attorneys’ fees and other costs, the individual payments, based on the number of miles driven by each driver, range from nominal amounts up to $8,000, although the majority of class members may just walk away with less than $100.  Uber further agreed to revise its termination practices so that drivers must generally be given warnings and explanations before Uber can deactivate them from its software application.  Drivers will also be able to appeal terminations and will enjoy a more driver-friendly tipping policy.

Many consider $84 million, or even $100 million, a well-spent business expense for Uber, who potentially had to spend hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to reclassify its drivers and comply with the requirements of minimum wage, overtime, workers compensation, anti-discrimination, benefits, sick leave, and other federal, state and local laws that apply to employees.

But Uber is not out of the woods yet. First, as mentioned earlier, the court must approve the settlement and there is no guarantee that it will.  Just a few weeks earlier, a California judge rejected a proposed settlement of similar litigation between Uber’s competitor, Lyft, and its drivers in part because it “short-changed” those drivers.  Under that settlement, Lyft drivers would have received an average of $56.  Second, Uber is settling lawsuits with its former and existing drivers in California and Massachusetts, but lawsuits in other states remain outstanding and new ones could be on the way.  Stay tuned for further developments.

©1994-2016 Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved.

Supreme Court Rules TCPA Class Action Not Mooted by Unaccepted Settlement Offer to Named Plaintiff

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that a company’s unaccepted offer of complete relief to a named plaintiff in a putative class action does not moot the plaintiff’s case. Before the ruling, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there was disagreement among the Courts of Appeals over whether an unaccepted offer can moot a plaintiff’s claim, thereby depriving federal courts of Article III jurisdiction. While not specific to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), this issue is common to cases involving statutes like the TCPA because damages are statutorily set and thus easily calculated. Under this ruling, a company facing a TCPA class action lawsuit cannot moot the case by offering complete relief to the named plaintiff before class certification.

Background on the Case

In Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, the U.S. Navy hired a nationwide advertising and marketing communications agency to execute a multimedia recruiting campaign that involved text messages. The marketing agency then hired a vendor to generate a list of cellular telephone numbers geared towards the Navy’s target audience who had consented to receive solicitations by text message. Under this campaign, the vendor sent text messages to over 100,000 recipients. One of those recipients was the named plaintiff, who alleged that he had not consented to receive the text message, and that the advertising agency violated the TCPA by sending the message (and perhaps others like it).

Before the deadline to file class certification, the advertising agency filed an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. The agency offered the named plaintiff complete relief – including his costs and $1,503 per text message that he could show he received. Note that the maximum the plaintiff could recover under the TCPA is $1,500 per text message plus the costs of filing suit. The plaintiff did not accept the settlement offer and allowed the Rule 68 submission to lapse after the time, 14 days, specified in the Rule.

The take-away from this important Supreme Court decision is that an unaccepted settlement offer has no force. Like other unaccepted contract offers, it creates no lasting right or obligation. Because plaintiff’s individual claim was not made moot by the expired settlement offer, the claim retained its vitality during the time to determine whether the case could proceed on behalf of the class.

© Polsinelli PC, Polsinelli LLP in California

Court Dismisses Text-Message TCPA Suit Against AOL, Finding Instant Messaging Service Does Not Constitute an ATDS

On June 1, the Northern District of California dismissed a putative TCPA class action against AOL, finding that the plaintiff had failed to allege that AOL utilized an automated telephone dialing system (ATDS), as required to state a cause of action under the TCPA.  In dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint in Derby v. AOL, the court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), which allows individuals to send instant messages as text messages to cell phones, constitutes an ATDS.  Instead, the court agreed with AOL’s argument that AIM relied on “human intervention” to send the messages at issue, which foreclosed the possibility of potential TCPA liability.  (Covington represented AOL in this case.)  The decision should be beneficial to a variety of services that enable their users to send text messages to cell phones.

The TCPA’s prohibitions include a ban on using an ATDS to call cellular telephones for informational purposes without the prior express consent of the recipient.  The FCC and courts have extended the reach of the statute to include text messages.  However, the FCC has stated that only equipment that has the capacity to operate “without human intervention” may qualify as an ATDS.  The plaintiff in Derby alleged that he received three text messages from an AIM user that were intended for another individual, which the court recognized were “presumably . . . the result of the sender inputting an incorrect phone number.”  After the receiving the third message, the plaintiff alleged that he sent a text message to AIM to block future texts from the AIM user, and that he received back a text confirmation of his request.

In analyzing TCPA liability for the first three text messages, the court noted that the plaintiff’s complaint “affirmatively alleges that AIM relies on human intervention to transmit text messages to recipients’ cell phones.”  The court followed precedent from other Ninth Circuit district courts rejecting ATDS arguments where the equipment at issue relied on humans to press buttons on phones or manually enter telephone numbers into the system.  Since the complaint demonstrated that “extensive human intervention is required to send text messages through defendant’s AIM service,” the court held that the complaint failed to state a claim under the TCPA with respect to the three text messages sent by an AIM user.

The court also analyzed potential TCPA liability for the separate confirmation text message that Derby alleged he had received from AIM.  Again citing relevant authority, the court held that “a single message sent in response to plaintiff’s text . . . is not the kind of intrusive, nuisance call that the TCPA prohibits.”  The court concluded that Derby, having sent the “block” request from his cell phone, had “knowingly released” his number to AIM and consented to receive a confirmation text from AIM at that number.  The court’s opinion advocated for a “common sense” approach to TCPA liability, finding that the statute should not be utilized to “punish the consumer-friendly practice of confirming requests to block future unwanted texts.”  Accordingly, the court also dismissed the TCPA claim based on the confirmation text message for failure to state a claim.

© 2015 Covington & Burling LLP

Catch of the Day: Tuna Fish Brand StarKist Swims into a Sea of Trouble After Agreeing to Settle Claims Against It

StarKist Co. recently agreed in principle to a $12 million settlement with a putative class of plaintiffs concerning alleged under-filling of tuna fish cans. But agreeing on the dollar figure seems to have been the easy part; the parties in this bitterly-fought case have become embroiled in motion practice about the allocation of that $12 million payout.

The case under discussion is Hendricks v. StarKist Co., No. 3:13-cv-0729-HSG in the Northern District of California. Plaintiff alleged that StarKist had been under-filling its cans of tuna fish, resulting in a product weight that fell below the federally mandated minimum averages of 2.84 to 3.23 ounces of tuna per 5 ounce can. This practice, plaintiff alleged, violated California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, California’s False Advertising Law, California’s Unfair Competition Law, and plaintiff also brought various common law claims.

StarKist moved to transfer or dismiss the case, and the Court denied the motion to transfer and mostly denied StarKist’s motion to dismiss. The Court also denied StarKist’s motion for reargument. Plaintiff subsequently moved to certify a nationwide class for his common law claims, moved for sanctions relating to alleged discovery misconduct, and several interested parties sought to intervene and certify statewide sub-classes under other states’ laws. On the morning that all those motions were to be argued, the parties signed a binding settlement term sheet under which StarKist would make available $8 million in cash and $4 million in vouchers to the settlement class.

There was a catch, however, over how to allocate payments from the settlement fund. Plaintiff proposed a flat-rate payout of $25 in cash or $50 in vouchers to class members. Plaintiff’s proposal would potentially exhaust the settlement fund quickly, and Starkist objected to it. Specifically, StarKist argued that it is “arbitrary and bear[s] no relationship to the number of StarKist products each class member purchased or the extent of purported injury” (emphasis in original). By contrast, StarKist’s allocation proposal would award each class member $1.00 for up to ten products purchased, and an additional $1.00 for every ten cans of StarKist tuna fish purchased with an upper limit set at 250 cans or $25.00. StarKist also proposed that vouchers be available in lieu of cash at a value of $1.50 per ten cans of StarKist tuna fish purchased with a maximum value of $37.50.

It remains to be seen whether StarKist’s arguments will persuade the Court to can plaintiff’s flat-rate payout. We will, of course, monitor developments in this case, but in the interim it bears repeating that sometimes the dollar figure is the easy part of settling a putative class action.

© 2015 Proskauer Rose LLP.

Maker’s Mark Defeats “Handmade” Class Action Lawsuit

Could consumers have plausibly believed that one of the country’s top-selling bourbon brands is “handmade”?  Not according to one federal district court in Florida, which recently dismissed a class action alleging Maker’s Mark deceived consumers by labeling its whiskey as “handmade.” The decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle comes on the heels of a California federal court’s decision not to dismiss outright a similar consumer class action involving Tito’s Handmade Vodka.  Compare Salters v. Beam Suntory, Inc., 14-cv-659, Dkt. 31, (N.D. Fla. May 1, 2015) with Hofmann v. Fifth Generation, Inc., 14-cv-2569, Dkt. 15 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 18, 2015)).  These divergent opinions suggest that courts are still puzzling over just how much credence to grant putative class claims based on allegedly deceptive liquor labels at the motion to dismiss stage, particularly under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).  In Twombly, the Court made clear that plaintiffs must include enough facts in a complaint to make their claim to relief not just conceivable, but plausible—or else face dismissal.

Salters, the Florida case, is part of a wave of recently filed class actions accusing alcoholic beverage producers of violating state consumer protection statutes.  In the typical case, as here, the plaintiffs claim to have purchased the brand in reliance on allegedly deceptive labeling and contend they would not have purchased it or would have paid less otherwise.  The Salters plaintiffs claimed they were damaged because Maker’s Mark sold “their ‘handmade’ Whisky to consumers with the false representation that the Whisky was ‘handmade’ when, in actuality, the Whisky is made via a highly-mechanized process, which is devoid of human hands.”

Judge Hinkle flatly rejected the idea that this could support a claim.  Citing Twombly, he noted that although whether a label is false or misleading is generally a question of fact, a motion to dismiss should be granted if the complaint’s factual allegations do not “render plaintiffs’ entitlement to relief plausible.”  The court observed that taken literally, all bourbon is handmade, because it is not a naturally occurring product; construed less literally, which was apparently the plaintiffs’ approach, “no reasonable consumer could believe” that bourbon could be made by hand, presumably without commercial-scale equipment, “at the volume required for a nationally marketed brand like Maker’s Mark.”  In any event, court found the plaintiffs’ claims implausible under any definition of “handmade,” writing:

In sum, no reasonable person would understand “handmade” in this context to mean literally made by hand.  No reasonable person would understand “handmade” in this context to mean substantial equipment was not used.  If “handmade” means only made from scratch, or in small units, or in a carefully monitored process, then the plaintiffs have alleged no facts plausibly suggesting that statement is untrue.  If “handmade” is understood to mean something else . . . the statement is the kind of puffery that cannot support claims of this kind.

The court appears to have concluded that when applied to a product as popular as Maker’s Mark, the word “handmade” is more an unactionable “general, undefined statement that connotes greater value,” like describing a bourbon as “smooth,” than a factual representation easily capable of being false or misleading.  Though this may pass the common sense test, it is less clear whether other courts will agree.  In the Tito’s case, for instance, the court declined to accept at the motion to dismiss stage an argument similar to the one that persuaded the Maker’s Mark judge, holding that “the representation that vodka that is (allegedly) mass-produced in automated modern stills from commercially manufactured neutral grain spirit is nonetheless “Handmade” in old-fashioned pot stills arguably could mislead a reasonable consumer.”

These cases highlight the need to carefully examine product labeling and advertising claims and consider whether consumers (or plaintiffs’ attorneys) could challenge them as untrue.  This is relatively simple when claims involve factual issues such as where a product is produced, but less so with words like “handmade,” which could arguably qualify as either non-actionable “puffery” or a quantifiable claim.

Consumer Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss in Target Data Breach Class Action

Mintz Levin Law Firm

A recent ruling by Federal District Judge Paul Magnuson will permit most of the consumer claims in the Target data breach litigation to survive Target’s motion to dismiss.  This most recent ruling follows on the heels of the court’s December 2 decision partially denying Target’s motion to dismiss consolidated complaint of the banks that issued the credit and debit cards that were subject to the breach.  The late 2013 data theft that gave rise to the consumer and issuer bank claims was caused by malware placed by hackers on Target’s point-of-sale (“POS”) terminals.  The malware allowed the hackers to record and steal payment card data as customers’ credit or debit cards were swiped.  In the consolidated consumer complaint, 117 named plaintiffs allege that Target wrongfully failed to prevent or timely disclose the data theft.  Plaintiffs also contend that Target failed to disclose the purported insufficiency of Target’s data security practices.  The consumers assert claims under the laws of 49 states and the District of Columbia for negligence, breach of contract, breach of data notification statutes and violation of state unfair trade practice statutes.  The consumer complaint also purports to assert those claims on behalf of a putative plaintiff class consisting of every Target customer whose credit or debit card information was stolen in the data breach.The court’s latest ruling rejected arguments by Target as to standing and damages that would have required dismissal of the consumer claims in their entirety.  The court did state, however, that Target can revisit the question of whether plaintiffs had sustained actionable injuries after discovery has concluded.  And, even though most of the consumer Plaintiffs’ claims survive, the court did rule that that certain of the claims alleged under particular states’ laws should be dismissed.  As is true of the court’s denial of Target’s motion to dismiss the issuer banks’ consolidated complaint, the denial of the motion to dismiss does not resolve the merits of the surviving consumer claims.  Like the surviving issuer bank claims, the consumer claims that were not dismissed will now be the subject of extensive discovery and further motion practice relating to class certification and summary judgment.

Court rejects Target’s arguments on standing and injury:  As is common in data breach cases, Target’s primary ground for seeking dismissal of the consumer claims was lack of standing due to the absence of actionable consumer injury.  In its motion to dismiss, Target argued that none of the plaintiffs had alleged a present injury sufficient to establish “case or controversy” standing under Article III of the United States Constitution.  Specifically, Target contended that none of plaintiffs’ alleged present injuries either constituted a present harm to plaintiffs or was fairly traceable to the theft of payment card data.  Target’s central argument was that allegations that unauthorized charges had been made on plaintiffs’ payment cards did not plead actionable injury because plaintiffs did not – indeed, likely could not – allege that such charges had not been or would not be reimbursed by the card issuing banks.  Target further argued that other alleged injuries could not fairly be traced to theft of payment card data because they could only have arisen from unrelated conduct (such as identity theft resulting from a plaintiff’s stolen social security number) or were not fairly traceable to the data theft itself (such as loss of access to funds based on plaintiffs’ own voluntary closing of accounts).

The court gave these arguments cursory treatment.  Judge Magnuson disagreed with Target’s injury analysis, finding that “Plaintiffs have alleged injury” in the form of “unlawful charges, restricted or blocked access to bank accounts, inability to pay other bills, and late payment charges or new card fees.”  Target contended that such alleged injuries are insufficient to confer standing because “Plaintiffs do not allege that their expenses were unreimbursed or say whether they or their bank closed their accounts . . . .”  The court rejected this argument, stating that Target had “set a too-high standard for Plaintiffs to meet at the motion-to-dismiss stage.”  In so ruling, however, Judge Magnuson merely deferred to another day a decision on whether the injuries alleged were indeed fairly traceable to the alleged wrong doing.  Despite concluding that Plaintiffs’ allegations were “sufficient at this stage to plead standing,” the court nonetheless stated that, “[s]hould discovery fail to bear out Plaintiffs’ allegations, Target may move for summary judgment on the issue.”  Thus, it remains open to Target to show that neither Plaintiffs nor putative class members suffered injuries fairly traceable to the data breach.

The court’s finding that Plaintiffs had alleged actionable injuries also supported its denial of Target’s request that the Court dismiss claims asserted under 26 state consumer protection laws that required allegation of pecuniary injury.  Similarly the court rejected Target’s argument that Plaintiffs’ negligence claims should be dismissed for failure to allege cognizable damages.

Court dismisses some state consumer protection law claims; most survive.  Plaintiffs brought unfair or deceptive trade practice claims under the consumer protection statutes of 49 states and the District of Columbia.  The court dismissed claims under Wisconsin law because the subject statute contains no private right of action.  The court also dismissed claims asserted on behalf of absent class members under the consumer protection laws of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, finding that the laws of those states, which preclude the assertion of consumer protection claims by means of a class action, “define the scope of the state-created right” and preclude certification of a class to pursue such claims (quoting Shady Grove Orthopedic Assocs. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 559 U.S. 393, 423 (2010)).  Otherwise, as noted above, Judge Magnuson found that plaintiffs’ allegations, including their allegations of injury, asserted actionable class and individual claims under the remaining states’ consumer protection statutes, and declined to dismiss such claims.

Certain data breach notice claims survive motion to dismiss.  Plaintiffs asserted claims against Target under the date breach notification statutes of 38 states, alleging that Target had failed to disclose the data breach as soon as required under those laws.  As with plaintiffs’ other claims, the court rejected as premature Target’s argument that plaintiffs had not alleged any actionable damages flowing from alleged violations of state data breach notification statutes.  Certain of Target’s arguments for dismissal based on statutory language prevailed.  Plaintiffs conceded that the data breach statutes in Florida, Oklahoma, and Utah did not permit a private right of action, and voluntarily withdrew those claims.  Where the applicable statutes provided only for enforcement by the state attorney general (as is true in Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada and, Texas), the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims.  Where the remedies available under other states’ laws were non-exclusive or ambiguous –as was the case in Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan and Wyoming – the court declined to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims.  Where applicable state laws were silent as to the authority to enforce the enactment, the court inferred a private right of enforcement in all states except Rhode Island, where controlling authority holds that if a statute does not expressly provide for a private cause of action, such a right cannot be inferred.  As to all other states, the court agreed with plaintiffs’ argument that there is either a permissive cause of action or that there is a private right to enforce data breach notification statues under applicable state consumer protection statutes.

Negligence claims survive where not barred under the economic loss doctrine:  Actual damages is a required element of a common law negligence claim.  The court’s rejection of Target’s argument that Plaintiffs had failed to allege actionable injury precluded dismissal of Plaintiffs’ negligence claims in their entirety for failure to plead damages.  Under certain states’ laws, however, the so-called “economic loss doctrine” requires dismissal of claims for negligence where the alleged injury consists solely of economic loss rather than personal injury or property damage.  Following state authority, the court invoked the economic loss doctrine to dismiss negligence claims based on the economic loss rule under Alaska, California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts law.  The court declined to dismiss negligence claims under District of Columbia, Idaho and New Hampshire law, holding that precedent in those jurisdictions required additional factual development to determine whether there exists any special duty that would vitiate the economic loss doctrine.  Finally, the court held that the facts pleaded in the Complaint satisfied the exception to the economic loss doctrine applicable under New York and Pennsylvania law where there is a duty to protect from the specific harm alleged.

Breach of implied contract claims survive:  Judge Magnuson held that the existence of an implied contract turns on issue of fact that cannot be resolved at the motion to dismiss stage because “a jury could reasonably find that a customer’s use of a credit or debit card to pay at a retailer may include the implied contract term that the retailer “will take reasonable measures to protect the information” on those cards (citing In re Hannaford Bros. Customer Data Sec. Breach Litig., 613 F. Supp. 2d 108, 119 (D. Me. 2009)).

Breach of contract claim dismissed without prejudice:  The Complaint alleges that Target violated the terms of the card agreement for the Target REDcard, in which Target states that it “use[s] security measures that comply with federal law.”  The Complaint, however, fails to specify the federal law with which Target purportedly failed to comply.  Accordingly, the court dismissed that claim without prejudice, allowing Plaintiffs leave to replead that claim to specify, if possible, the state law that had been violated.

Bailment claim dismissed:  A common law bailment claim consists of wrongful failure to return tangible property entrusted to another.  Plaintiffs, however, do not and cannot allege that stolen payment card information was given to Target with expectation of return. Therefore, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ bailment claim with prejudice.

Unjust enrichment claim survives:  Plaintiffs claim that Target is liable for unjust enrichment because it knowingly received or obtained something of value which in equity and good conscience it should not have received.  This claim is based on two theories.  The first is an “overcharge” theory claiming that Target charges an unearned premium for data security.  The second theory states that class members would not have shopped at Target had Target disclosed alleged deficiencies in its data security.  The court rejected the first theory as unsupported as a matter of law, but concluded, without citation to authority, that the “‘would not have shopped’ theory . . . is plausible and supports their claim for unjust enrichment.”

Significant obstacles remain for consumer claims:  The court’s refusal to accept Target’s injury arguments at the motion to dismiss stage does not eliminate Plaintiffs’ burden to prove that consumers suffered actionable losses.  Because consumers generally do not have to pay for fraudulent charges on their payment cards, such activity will not provide a basis to establish cognizable damages.  Nor is the cost of credit monitoring or other activities associated with avoiding identity theft or adverse credit history likely to provide grounds for proving actionable damages.  A majority of courts that have addressed the issue have held that such costs are not actionable as a necessary and reasonable consequence of a payment card data breach.  And even where fraud mitigation costs have been treated as cognizable injury – as was the case in Anderson v. Hannaford Bros. Co., 659 F.3d 151 (1st Cir. 2011) – the court nonetheless denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certificationbecause questions of whether individual consumers’ remedial actions were reasonable and what such actions reasonably should have cost could not be determined without taking testimony from every member of the class, thereby raising highly individualized issues of fact and law that would preclude trying class members’ claims through proof common to the class as a whole.  The parties will have the opportunity to grapple with these issues after discovery has concluded.

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