Check the White Pages for Personal Information: Massachusetts Decision Highlights the Expansion of Consumer Privacy Litigation

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Last week, in Tyler v. Michaels Stores, Inc., the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts responded to certified questions presented by the district court and interpreted a Massachusetts statute to reflect the state’s interest in protecting consumer privacy. No. SJC-11145, 2013 Mass. LEXIS 40 (Mass. Mar. 11, 2013). In particular, the court held that a consumer’s zip code constitutes personal identification information, and that a consumer can bring an action under the relevant statute absent a claim of identify fraud.

Melissa Tyler filed a class action in 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against Michaels Stores, Inc. (“Michaels”), on behalf of herself and a class of Michaels’ customers. The complaint alleged that Michaels unlawfully wrote customers’ personal identification information on credit card transaction forms in violation of Massachusetts G.L. c. 93 § 105(a) (section 105(a)). The District of Massachusetts certified three questions to the Massachusetts state court regarding the proper interpretation of section 105(a), including (1) whether a zip code qualifies as “personal identification information” under the statute; (2) whether a plaintiff can bring an action under section 105(a) for a privacy right violation absent identity fraud; and (3) whether the phrase “credit card transaction form” as used in section 105(a) refers to both electronic or paper transactions. The court answered each of these questions in the affirmative.

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