In Re Yahoo Mail Litig.: Court Rejects Defendant’s Catch-22 Argument re Article III Standing

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On May 26, 2015, Judge Lucy H. Koh of the Northern District of California certified both nationwide and California state classes of individual non-Yahoo mail users in a putative class action against Yahoo for its non-consensual collection, or mining, of data from non-user emails to Yahoo Mail subscribers. See In Re Yahoo Mail Litig., No. 13-4980 (N.D. Cal. May 26, 2015) (Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion for Class Certification, available here).

In In re Yahoo Mail Litig., the class claims were limited to injunctive and declaratory relief, and the plaintiffs strategically did not seek statutory damages. Judge Koh certified a nationwide class under the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) and a California-only class under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (“CIPA”). The certification of the two classes involved the intersection of three current, hot-button issues: (1) electronic online data mining; (2) Article III standing; and (3) ascertainability. In particular, Judge Koh’s straightforward, commonsense analysis of Article III standing is instructive for its clarity and reasoning.

Whether a plaintiff has Article III standing to pursue injunctive relief after gaining knowledge of a defendant’s wrongdoing was a pivotal question in this case. Yahoo argued that the plaintiffs’ continued email interaction with Yahoo subscribers after they learned of Yahoo’s data collection practices forecloses their standing to pursue injunctive relief, since these continued interactions constituted consent to Yahoo’s policies. As a result, the class members would be unable to show a likelihood of being injured in the future. See Order at 10. However, the court simply rejected this argument. Id.

According to Yahoo, the plaintiffs would be required to cease emailing Yahoo users in order to preserve their claims and to avoid consenting to Yahoo’s data mining, yet they would need to continue communicating with Yahoo users’ accounts in order to demonstrate a threat of future injury. Judge Koh found that, because a showing of a likelihood of future injury is required to pursue injunctive relief, Yahoo’s rationale “would put Plaintiffs in a catch-22 that would essentially preclude injunctive relief altogether.” Id. at 14.

While other courts have landed on the less-desirable end of the issue, Judge Koh’s ruling signals that Yahoo’s interpretation of Article III standing should be rejected for being overly narrow in the consumer protection context, which is welcome news for California consumers. See id. at 12.

Authored by: 
Tarek Zohdy, Associate