Law School Case Brief
Patel v. Facebook, Inc. - No. 18-15982, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 23673 (9th Cir. Aug. 8, 2019)
The question whether the potential for enormous liability can justify a denial of class certification depends on legislative intent. Where neither the statutory language nor legislative history indicates that the legislature intended to place a cap on statutory damages, denying class certification on that basis would subvert legislative intent.
Facebook users living in Illinois brought a class action against Facebook, claiming that Facebook's facial-recognition technology violates Illinois law (Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA)), which provides that "any person aggrieved" by a violation of its provisions "shall have a right of action" against an "offending party." According to the complaint, Facebook violated sections 15(a) and 15(b) of BIPA by collecting, using, and storing biometric identifiers from their photos without obtaining a written release and without establishing a compliant retention schedule. Facebook moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint for lack of Article III standing on the ground that the plaintiffs had not alleged any concrete injury. While Facebook's motion to dismiss was pending, the plaintiffs moved to certify a class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court denied Facebook's motion to dismiss, and certified a Rule 23(b)(3) class of "Facebook users located in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored a face template after June 7, 2011." Facebook filed a timely petition for leave to appeal the district court's ruling.
Was class certification proper?
The court affirmed the judgment of the district court and upheld class certification under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 because the BIPA protected concrete privacy interests and violations of its procedures actually harmed or posed a material risk of harm to those interests for purposes of Article III standing. Predominance was not defeated because the district court could determine class-wide whether Illinois's extraterritoriality doctrine precluded application of the BIPA. The court rejected Facebook's claim that a class action was not superior to individual actions because of the possibility of a large, class-wide statutory damages award. Nothing in the text or legislative history of BIPA indicated that a large statutory damages award would be contrary to the intent of the Illinois General Assembly. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that a class action was superior to individual actions in this case.
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