4th Circuit remands privacy suit to state court
On February 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that a proposed class action over website login procedures belongs in state court. Plaintiff alleged that after a nonparty credit reporting agency experienced a data breach, it used the defendant subsidiary’s website to inform customers whether their personal data had been compromised. Because the defendant’s website required the plaintiff to enter six digits of his Social Security number to access the information, the plaintiff alleged violations of South Carolina’s Financial Identity Fraud and Identity Theft Protection Act and the state’s common-law right to privacy. Under the state statute, companies are prohibited from requiring consumers to use six digits or more of their Social Security number to access a website unless a password, a unique personal identification number, or another form of authentication is also required. According to the plaintiff, the defendant’s website did not include this requirement.
The defendant moved the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act and requested that the case be dismissed. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint in federal court, as well as a motion asking the district court to first determine whether it had subject matter jurisdiction, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, which clarified the type of concrete injury necessary to establish Article III standing (covered by InfoBytes here). Although the district court held that the plaintiff had alleged “an intangible concrete harm in the manner of an invasion of privacy,” which it said was enough to give it subject-matter jurisdiction “at this early stage of the case,” it dismissed the case after determining the plaintiff had not plausibly stated a claim.
In reversing and remanding the action, the 4th Circuit found that the plaintiff alleged only a bare statutory violation and had not pled a concrete injury sufficient to confer Article III standing in federal court. The appellate court vacated the district court’s decision to dismiss the case and ordered the district court to remand the case to state court. The 4th Circuit took the position that an intangible harm, such as a plaintiff “enduring a statutory violation” is insufficient to confer standing unless there is a separate harm “or a materially increased risk of another harm” associated with the violation. “[Plaintiff] hasn’t alleged—even in a speculative or conclusory fashion—that entering six digits of his SSN on [defendant’s] website has somehow raised his risk of identity theft,” the 4th Circuit said. In conclusion, the 4th Circuit wrote: “We offer no opinion about whether the alleged facts state a claim under the Act. Absent Article III jurisdiction, that’s a question for [plaintiff] to take up in state court.”