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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

1st Circuit confirms standing for data breach victims

Courts Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Appellate First Circuit Data Breach Class Action Consumer Protection


On June 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overruled a district court’s dismissal of a putative class action against a home delivery pharmacy service for allegedly failing to prevent a 2021 data breach that exposed the personally identifiable information (PII) of over 75,000 patients. The class action complaint alleged state law claims for negligence, breach of implied contract, unjust enrichment, invasion of privacy, and breach of fiduciary duty, and sought damages and injunctive relief. The putative class was comprised of U.S. residents whose PII was compromised in the data breach. The two named plaintiffs were former or current patients whose PII were compromised in the data breach, and one of the two named plaintiffs had her stolen PII used to file a fraudulent tax return. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of Article III standing.

Affirming in part and reversing in part, the 1st Circuit held that the complaint “plausibly demonstrates” the plaintiffs’ standing to seek damages, applying the principles articulated by the Supreme Court in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, which clarified the type of concrete injury necessary to establish Article III standing (covered by InfoBytes here).

First, the court concluded that, with respect to the named plaintiff whose PII was used to file a fraudulent tax return, the complaint’s “plausible allegations of actual misuse” of the stolen PII constituted a “concrete injury in fact” for purposes of Article III standing. According to the 1st Circuit, there existed “an “obvious temporal connection” between the timing of the data breach and the filed return, among other facts. The appellate court also found that the fraudulent tax return could make it probable that more of the named plaintiff’s information could be further misused—changing the risk of future misuse from speculative to “imminent and substantial.”

Second, with respect to the named plaintiff for whom there was no allegation of actual misuse of PII, the court reasoned that “the complaint plausibly alleges a concrete injury in fact based on the material risk of future misuse of [plaintiff’s] PII and a concrete harm caused by exposure to this risk.” The appellate court also found that, because the data here was compromised in a “targeted attack,” then “it stands to reason that [such data] is more likely to be misused…and the risk of future misuse is heightened when the compromised data is particularly sensitive.”

Third, the court concluded that the complaint plausibly alleged a “separate concrete, present harm” caused by exposure to the risk of future harm, “based on the allegations of the plaintiffs’ lost time spent taking protective measures [against further identity theft] that would otherwise have been put to some productive use.” “The loss of this time is equivalent to a monetary injury, which is indisputably a concrete injury,” the appellate court wrote, adding that it joins other circuits in holding that time spent responding to a data breach is sufficient to establish standing.

Finally, the court held that plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue injunctive relief “because their desired injunctions would not likely redress their alleged injuries” as any such relief would only safeguard against future breaches and would not protect “plaintiffs from future misuse of their PII by the individuals they allege now possess it.”