Corporations love to demonize class action lawyers. Guess why? You can likely figure this out on your own, but I’ll spell it out here: Because a class action lawsuit is one of the most powerful tools that consumers have to make corporations accountable for their negligence. But the media doesn’t like to focus on the topic of class actions much because it’s not easy to digest via 10-second sound bites. Thus, witness another week of breathtaking, frenzied stories about the Trump administration. Reporters and talking heads gravitated to discussions about the abrupt departure of Flynn and Trump’s 77 minute presser. Meanwhile, a majority in the House worked in concert to destroy consumers’ most powerful tool to hold corporations accountable. That’s right, this past Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee voted on party lines to gut consumer protection class actions.
Interestingly, the corporate lobbyists’ anti-class-action talking points are eerily similar to the proposed “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017,” introduced last week in the House of Representatives. Coincidence? Of course, not.
Most of the proposed procedural rule changes in Representative Bob Goodlatte’s are directly traceable to the business lobby’s anti-class-action talking points. Goodlatte – a Virginia Republican and chair of the House Judiciary Committee is seizing on the corporate-friendly climate. He’s expanded last year’s proposed changes in a similarly named bill that was approved in the House but died in the Senate. If Congress adopts Goodlatte’s bill in anything like its current form, class actions will lose much of its potency.
The bill will make class actions much more difficult to survive the most critical milestone–certification. And, for those class actions that would survive, the bill would make those automatically appealable. Moreover, the bill seeks to strip away attorneys’ fees so that fewer plaintiffs attorneys will pursue these.
Most consumers think that class actions are big, nebulous things that have little to do with their lives. But if you talk to regular people such like my class action clients, you’ll realize that the Congress needs to stop trying to striking fatal blows to this important vehicle for justice. Like my clients, consumers throughout this country need class action attorneys to fight for them because they can’t or don’t want to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours to fight a giant corporation. My class action clients are like your neighbors, your relatives, your colleagues, and your friends. They are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. But, for them and for me, these lawsuits are not about politics. It’s about trying to hold a massive company accountable, when an individual consumer is wronged.
We all know that corporations are focused on maximizing profits. To maximize profits, these companies will cut corners, which often result in a harm to the consumers. When a consumer finds that they have a defective product or that their most private information has caused significant harm to them and their bank accounts, they are not sure who will go to bat for them. This is why class action attorneys play a critical role in leveling the field for the citizen who’s suffered injury because a manufacturer used shoddy material, security or processes.
Please, email/call/write your representatives and let them know that they represent your interests–not the corporations who’ve donated tens of thousands of dollars to their campaign.
For consumer class action attorneys like myself, we can continue to count our blessings for the moment. Indeed, a number of courts across the country continue to make commonsense and carefully crafted opinions that confer Art III standing for statutory damages claims.
I have much faith in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel just heard oral arguments, as the U.S. Supreme Court had remanded Spokeo (back on Dec. 13th). The 9th Cir.’s new challenge is to tackle the concreteness requirement with newfound gusto. Judge O’Scannlain found it difficult to move past her view that Mr. Robin’s allegations (the resulting inability to find work because of a grossly incorrect report about him) were ostensibly sufficiently concrete, tangible harm. However, Counsel for Plaintiff, William Consovoy kept focus on the issue that the Spokeo court harped on: Defendant was making this about an apparently intangible harm that has yet to run through the rigors of a concreteness test as the one that Alito pieced apart in his majority opinion…
Well, hang tight, as the panel will render its decision in the early portion of next year. From that, we’ll get more guidance about what that court thinks is needed to satisfy Art. III standing requirements…
We have some phenomenal judges, such as Judge Lucy Koh in the N.D. of CA in the 9th Circuit. She recently decided the Matera v. Google case, which laid out a clear, incredibly thoroughly reasoned opinion indicating why specific allegations are substantive violations. As such, these violations give rise to sufficiently concrete and particular injuries in fact. Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis of her 9/23/16 order. I hope to write more about that case here as I reflect on the year’s developments in privacy law.
I will also write more about this a couple of recent cases out of the E.D. Va, including my insights regarding Thomas v. FTS, which lays out some strong arguments that a statutory damages class action attorney may want to crib. A fun but rocky ride ahead of us is guaranteed…
The purpose of a road shoulder is to provide a safe place for drivers to pull off. This is what Todd Moothart, a 50 year old software engineer, thought as he tried to pull his motorcycle out of traffic. A conscientious motorcyclist, he wanted to wait for his friends to catch up. Motorcyclists know that it’s safer to travel in groups on the highway to increase their visibility to other vehicles.
When Todd got separated from his two friends on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Fall 2013, he decided to pull off on SR 14 and wait for them. But the road shoulder was far from safe. The broken pavement past the edge of the main road–next to the shoulder–dropped off seven inches.
When Todd pulled his Harley Davidson onto the shoulder, his motorcycle wheel hit the face of the seven-inch broken pavement edge. His motorcycle hit the face of the broken pavement, his front and rear wheels were severely dented, and his body was propelled into the air like he was on a trampoline.
Note that safety standards in the transportation engineering field recommend that pavement edge drop offs be kept to a depth of no greater than two
Todd suffered severe injuries, including a kidney laceration, a concussion, amputation of a part of his right index finger, and broken/fractured bones in his upper and lower body.
The design plans for the on-ramp called for an eight-foot paved shoulder on the right-hand side. At the location where Moothart pulled off, there was no paved shoulder at all beyond the fog line. For unknown reasons, the State’s as-built plans for the on-ramp showed an eight-foot paved shoulder, but the evidence indicated that the on-ramp never had an eight-foot paved shoulder in the area where Moothart pulled off. The on-ramp was built in the mid-90s.
Stritmatter Kessler attorneys represented Todd Moothart in trial against the State of Washington in late October/early November of this year. The jury found that the State had failed to maintain the road in a reasonably safe condition.Todd was awarded $2,993,000. Part of the award was for about $500,000 in undisputed past medical bills and wage loss.
Todd was a conscientious motorcyclist who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Emergencies and split second decisions happen anywhere and anytime. That’s why the shoulder must be maintained per State of Washington standards. The shoulder needs to be safe to pull over for all vehicles. This is the State of Washington has standards for an eight food shoulder with a minimum drop off of 2 inches.
Kudos to our firm’s roadway safety attorneys for educating the jury and judge about the need to keep the State’s road shoulders safe! The government needs to be held accountable, when its roads don’t meet basic safety requirements.
Hopefully making the most out of the extra hour yesterday, transportation workers were busy at work around Seattle yesterday. Why? They were installing 145 signs announcing the new 25 mph arterial-speed limit. The policy behind lowering the arterial speed limit is to reduce traffic related injuries and fatalities.
So…. take note:
The residential speed limit of 25 mph falls to 20 mph throughout the city, including hundreds of unmarked roads — in many cases, too narrow for drivers to exceed 20 anyway.
• The default speed limit of 30 mph for arterials drops to 25 mph citywide,“unless otherwise posted,” according to new signs at the city entrances.
This last point may confuse drivers because some outlying streets that were historically 30 mph have sporadic signs, due to abuse and neglect. The City Council unanimously approved the changes Sept. 26 and is looking to extend the program next year.
Friends at Seattle Greenways were big proponents of this change. Kudos to Cathy Tuttle and Gordon Padelford!
If you haven’t heard by now, the internet was under attack thanks to insecure “internet of things” (IoT) devices. The weapon of choice was the Mirai botnet, which crippled well known sites like CNN, Netflix, Twitter, etc. to a grinding halt. But how exactly did insecure IoT devices help the largest to date cyberattack experienced in the Western hemisphere?
The source of the outage was a distributed distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which leveraged a network of IoT devices infected with special malware, known as a “botnet”. The botnet was orchestrated to bombard a server with traffic until it collapsed under the strain. The IoT devices included Xerox, Panasonic and Samsung printers, as well as an array of Chinese manufactured short circuit TVs, DVRs, etc.
Botnets are not new, unfortunately. But a botnet comprised of IoTs is what makes last week’s massive DDoS jaw dropping and terrifying. Why should you or anyone care, especially if technology is not in your wheelhouse? Think of finding out that your garage has served as shelter for a terrorist, who is part of a much larger cell, ready to take down half the country. The terrorist was able to get into your garage easily because you don’t secure it. Guess what? You’re one of the most vulnerable targets if the attack goes down.
Now, bring this back to the IoT framework. Many households are moving toward an connected, IoT world–from refrigerators, thermostats, security systems and security cameras. When everything goes smoothly, we forget how much rely on our IoT devices. It’s only when they’re compromised do we then realize that we may have a big problem.
The crux of the data security challenge that faces us all is that the Mirai botnet revealed how vulnerable we are because of insecure IoTs. The Mirai attack exploited 100,000 connected devices or “malicious endpoints,” which resulted in an epoch attack of 1.2 terabytes/second. Your DVR or short-circuit camera may have served as an unwitting accomplice in the now legendary DDoS attack.
Highline Medical Center tells 18.5K patients that their personal/health information was inadvertently left online for months.
About 18,499 patients of Franciscan Health Highline Medical Center cannot be very happy in Burien. Franciscan Health Highline Medical Center just notified its patients of a potential data breach after a vendor working on behalf of the medical center inadvertently left patient information accessible and unprotected via the internet for several months.
R-C Healthcare Management notified the hospital July 22 that some patient information had been accessible online from April 21 through June 13.
Potentially compromised information includes patient names, service dates, health insurance information and Social Security numbers. No medical information was included. The incident affects patients whose data was involved in account reporting functions from 1993 to 1994 and 2008 to 2013, according to the hospital’s notice.
R-C Healthcare reportedly told CHI Franciscan it secured the files as of June 13. The health system says it has no knowledge any of the information has been accessed, viewed, acquired or compromised by an unauthorized third party but is offering free credit monitoring for affected patients.
Please contact Catherine Fleming, if you were a member of the roughly 18K breached, we would like to talk to you. Please call Catherine Fleming at 206.448.1777 or email her Catherine@Stritmatter.com
People walking and biking have a 90% chance of surviving if hit by a car driver going 20 MPH. But at 30 MPH there is only a 50-50 chance of survival.
You can help move Seattle towards safer speed limits, right now.
What’s the proposal? The city council is considering lowering speed limits on non-arterial streets from 25 MPH to 20 MPH, and in downtown on arterial streets from 30 MPH to 25 MPH (see the City’s FAQ).
Why should you care? If you have a young child, elderly family member, or if you are a pedestrian/cyclist in Seattle, this means safer streets for you and your family.
How will this proposal make a difference? This proposal makes sense. Our neighborhood streets are where we raise our families, talk to our neighbors, play in our front yards, and walk to school. Neighborhood streets should be quiet, calm, and safe places that enhance our quality of life. Downtown streets have the highest concentration of collisions between people walking or biking and people driving, and lowering the speed limit will help. Speed limit changes are only a small, but important, part of a comprehensive Vision Zero effort to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities on our streets by 2030. Learn more.
How you can help:
- Tell the City Council why adopting safer speed limits is important to you and your community. Or if you are too nervous to speak, hold signs in support.
- When: 2:00 (show up at 1:50 to sign up), Tuesday, September 20th
- Where: Seattle City Hall’s main council chambers. If you are having trouble finding the chambers, simply ask anyone you see inside the building.
Please let Gordon Padelford know if you can join to support the legislation on Tuesday.
If you can’t make it: Please call your city council members and let them know you are supportive:
Tim Burgess (Citywide): 206.684.8806 | email@example.com
Lorena González (Citywide): 206.684.8802 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Find your city council district here.
Lisa Herbold (Dist 1): 206.684.8803 | email@example.com
Bruce Harrell (Dist 2): 206.684.8804 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kshama Sawant: (Dist 3) 206.684.8016 | email@example.com
Rob Johnson (Dist 4): 206.684.8808 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Debora Juarez (Dist 5): 206.684.8805 | email@example.com
Mike O’Brien (Dist 6): 206.684.8800 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally Bagshaw (Dist 7): 206.684.8801 | email@example.com
Thank you for all that you do!
NOTE: Printed with minor modifications and with permission from my friends at Seattle Greenways, specifically SG Policy Director Gordon Padelford.
Usually, when I hear about thousands of employees getting fired, my heart goes out to them. But when I learned about the recent firing of 5300 Wells Fargo employees, I wondered whether losing a job was a harsh enough consequence for unauthorized use of consumers’ personal information. After all, these WF employees opened up accounts that resulted in NSF/overdraft fines, fines from third party vendors (who may have billed via autopay), etc.
According to the CFPB, “Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses.” A client had approached me several months ago, wondering why her accounts were multiplying without her recollection of signing any paperwork. Today’s CFPB press release clears up the mystery. Below is an excerpt.
Wells Fargo’s violations include:
- Opening deposit accounts and transferring funds without authorization: According to the bank’s own analysis, employees opened roughly 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. Employees then transferred funds from consumers’ authorized accounts to temporarily fund the new, unauthorized accounts. This widespread practice gave the employees credit for opening the new accounts, allowing them to earn additional compensation and to meet the bank’s sales goals. Consumers, in turn, were sometimes harmed because the bank charged them for insufficient funds or overdraft fees because the money was not in their original accounts.
- Applying for credit card accounts without authorization: According to the bank’s own analysis, Wells Fargo employees applied for roughly 565,000 credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. On those unauthorized credit cards, many consumers incurred annual fees, as well as associated finance or interest charges and other fees.
- Issuing and activating debit cards without authorization: Wells Fargo employees requested and issued debit cards without consumers’ knowledge or consent, going so far as to create PINs without telling consumers.
- Creating phony email addresses to enroll consumers in online-banking services: Wells Fargo employees created phony email addresses not belonging to consumers to enroll them in online-banking services without their knowledge or consent.
For anyone wondering how the CFPB helps consumers, this action against Wells Fargo’s deceptive acts should help illuminate the importance of this agency’s work.
In Joan Longenecker-Wells v. Benecard Services, Inc., plaintiffs were employees who learned that their personal information, including date of birth, social security number, addresses, etc. which resulted in fraudulently filed tax returns. The Third Circuit dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims, stating that their negligence claims were barred by the economic loss doctrine. The Third Circuit explains:
The District Court held that because Plaintiffs’ negligence claim sounds only in economic loss resulting from the fraudulent tax returns filed with their information, the economic loss doctrine bars their claim. We agree.
Food for thought. Eh? Can we say that a plaintiff, who experiences this grave injustice of losing the benefit of a 5 figure tax return is only sustaining economic loss. I would think that the experience is emotionally draining if not traumatic to know that a fraudster has exploited your key identifying data to extract money that was owed to you.
In contrast, we have Taylor v. Spherion Staffing LLC, et al. No. 3:15-cv-2299 (N.D. Ohio 2015), Ernst v. Dish Network, LLC, et al. No. 1:12-cv-8794 (S.D.N.Y May 27, 2016); Hillson et al. v. Kelly Services, No. 2:15-cv-10803 (E.D. Mich. June 8, 2016). These cases settled and involved allegations of statutory violations. Keep in mind that Spokeo left open the possibility that a statutory violation may involve a sufficient risk of harm to satisfy the concreteness requirement. Thus, settlement may have presented a more attractive alternative than extended litigation about the sufficiency of alleged harms.
Note: This blog post is republished from my Privacy Law Diva blog.