Illinois Appeals Court vacates $4.3 million FACTA class action settlement
On September 6, the Illinois Appellate Court, 5th District, vacated a circuit court’s $4.3 million settlement in a class action brought against a merchant for allegedly violating the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) when it printed the first six and last four digits of customers’ 16-digit credit card account numbers on receipts. The appeals court held, among other things, that the “record is devoid of facts that would have permitted a reasoned judgment that the class settlement was fair, reasonable and in the best interests of all affected.” Under FACTA, merchants are prohibited from including on a receipt more than the last five digits of a consumer’s credit card number, and a credit card’s expiration date. A class action suit claiming the merchant violated the restriction was originally filed in New York federal court, but the preliminarily approved settlement was later dismissed after objectors argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing. The named plaintiff requested dismissal of the federal action and subsequently filed suit immediately after in Illinois state court, asking the court to adopt a settlement agreement identical to the one that had been preliminarily approved by the federal court. The objector appealed once again, challenging, among other things, (i) the named plaintiff’s ability to adequately represent the settlement class; (ii) the original class notice, which she argued was insufficient to cover the state court settlement; and (iii) the “fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the ‘coupon settlement,’” in which class members received $12 merchant gift cards, while the named plaintiff received $4,000 and class counsel was awarded $500,000.
On appeal, the appeals court disagreed with the objector’s contention that the named plaintiff lacked standing to represent the class because he kept his receipt and therefore had not been injured under FACTA, but found “a number of red flags” regarding the sub-class of more than 350,000 members of the merchant’s loyalty program, questioning whether the named plaintiff was an adequate representative for those class members since there was nothing in the record indicating whether he was a member of the program. Moreover, the appeals court agreed with the objector that the original class notice provided under the federal settlement did not sufficiently protect the due process rights of the settlement class, and that “due process requires the giving of notice anew of the pending state court settlement to absent class members so that they have the opportunity to protect their own interests.” The appeals court remanded the case to allow the trial court to more carefully scrutinize the terms of the settlement, stating that “we are unable to determine whether the trial court evaluated the merits of the cause of action, the prospects and problems of litigating the cause or the fairness of the terms of compromise.” The appeals court also ordered the trial court to further explain its findings that the $500,000 attorneys’ fee award and $4,000 lead plaintiff award are reasonable given the possibility that not every class member will use the coupon.