New Jersey District Court Denies Standing in FACTA Case

On October 20, 2016, Judge William J. Martini of the District of New Jersey ruled, in Kamal v. J.Crew, that actual evidence of fraudulent credit card use was necessary before a customer could properly assert Article III standing in a suit brought under Section 113(g) of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (“FACTA”). Given FACTA allows statutory damages of up to $1,000 in a private cause of action based on a willful violation, FACTA has been a very popular statute for class actual counsel. For example, in 2015, LabCorp agreed to fund an $11 million settlement – nearly $200 to each class member to settle FACTA charges, which included a nationwide class of plaintiffs comprising 665,000 consumers.

Relying on the May 2016 Supreme Court ruling in Spokeo v. Robins, Judge Martini dismissed a previously-stayed FACTA class action against J.Crew. Judge Martini ruled J.Crew’s printing of ten digits of a customers’ account does not meet or create a claim meeting Article III’s concreteness requirement.

Although FACTA precludes a retailer from printing more than five digits of a credit card number on a sales receipt, Judge Martini found that printing 10 digits instead of five did not raise the risk of fraud sufficiently to create a concrete injury for “case” or “controversy” standing purposes. According to the Court, without the risk of concrete harm, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and has no choice but to dismiss the case given Article III of the Constitution did not allow him to hear the case.

In dismissing, the Court essentially ruled that the mere exposure of more numerals of a credit card number did not compromise plaintiff’s security sufficiently to demonstrate actual harm.  Of most significance, the Court ruled: “Congress’ role in identifying and elevating intangible harms does not mean that a plaintiff automatically satisfies the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right.” Kamal v. J.Crew at 5 – 6.  See also Kamal v. J.Crew at 3 (“Spokeo did not disturb this circuit’s standing jurisprudence. See In re Nickelodeon Consumer Privacy Litigation, 827 F.3d 262, 273 (3d Cir. 2016).”).

Other courts interpreting Spokeo have been more tenuous. For example, in Carr v. Parking Solutions, the District Court ruled: “The Supreme Court did not offer a conclusive ruling, and instead remanded Spokeo to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration of Article III’s injury-in-fact requirements.” See also Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1553 (Thomas, J., concurring) (“Congress can create new private rights and authorize private plaintiffs to sue based simply on the violation of those private rights. A plaintiff seeking to vindicate a statutorily created private right need not allege actual harm beyond the invasion of that private right.”).

No one can predict whether or not Judge Martini’s ruling will stand the test of time.  What is clear, however, is that his ruling has significance with future privacy actions beyond FACTA.  As previously pointed out, FACTA could have been an important stepping stone for privacy class counsel seeking to monetize a data breach.   As it currently stands in the Third Circuit, however, statutory damages would not even be enough to get the job done for class counsel.