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By Perry Cooper
July 26 — Consumers alleging they were improperly asked to provide their ZIP codes when making credit card purchases at Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie stores can't bring a class action in federal court ( Hancock v. Urban Outfitters Inc., 2016 BL 239219, D.C. Cir., No. 14-7047, 7/26/16 ).
The plaintiffs alleged that the ZIP code requests violated D.C. consumer law. But they didn't allege that they suffered any cognizable injury as a result, Judge Patricia Ann Millett wrote July 26 for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The complaint doesn't pass the “actual injury” test set out in May by the U.S. Supreme Court in Spokeo, the court held.
Whitney Hancock and Jamie White brought a class action against Urban Outfitters Inc. and Anthropologie, which is owned by Urban Outfitters.
The plaintiffs alleged the retailers collected their ZIP codes when they made credit card purchases, in violation of D.C.'s Use of Consumer Identification Information Act, D.C. Code §47–3151, and Consumer Protection Procedures Act, D.C. Code §28–3901.
They sought $2,000 in statutory damages for each class member, alleging there were “thousands” of consumers affected.
The lower court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. It found that a ZIP code isn't by itself an “address” that the Identification Act protects from disclosure. And the plaintiffs don't allege that giving their ZIP codes was necessary to complete the transaction, as required by the Consumer Protection Act, the court said.
But on appeal, the D.C. Circuit held that the lower court improperly “bypassed the jurisdictional question of Hancock’s and White’s standing and dove into the merits of this case.”
The plaintiffs lack standing to bring the suit in the first place, the appeals court said.
“The complaint here does not get out of the starting gate” because the plaintiffs didn't allege they suffered any cognizable injury, the court said.
By alleging they were asked for a ZIP code, when such a request is prohibited under D.C. law, the plaintiffs “assert only a bare violation” of the law, the court said.
Such a bare statutory violation isn't enough to establish standing under Spokeo Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016) (17 CLASS 555, 5/27/16), the court said.
In Spokeo, a Fair Credit Reporting Act case, the court held that to sue in federal court a plaintiff must have suffered an actual or imminent injury that is both particularized and concrete.
The Spokeo decision suggested that dissemination of an incorrect ZIP code, without more, wouldn't work any concrete harm.
“If, as the Supreme Court advised, disclosure of an incorrect zip code is not a concrete Article III injury, then even less so is Hancock and White’s naked assertion that a zip code was requested and recorded without any concrete consequence,” the D.C. Circuit said.
Because the plaintiffs didn't allege, “for example, any invasion of privacy, increased risk of fraud or identity theft, or pecuniary or emotional injury,” they lack standing, the court said.
It vacated the lower court's judgment on the merits and remanded for the court to dismiss the complaint.
Judges Harry Thomas Edwards and David Bryan Sentelle joined the opinion.
Scott Michael Perry and Mikhael David Charnoff of Perry Charnoff PLLC in Arlington, Va., represented the plaintiffs.
H. Jonathan Redway of Dickinson Wright PLLC in Washington represented the retailers.
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Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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