Judge Refuses to Delay $30B Facebook Privacy Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday refused to halt a $30 billion privacy class action against Facebook as the Ninth Circuit weighs an emergency petition to stay the case just two days before a crucial class notice deadline.

U.S. District Judge James Donato dismissed as “unpersuasive” Facebook’s argument that being forced to notify tens of millions of users about the lawsuit against it will cause reputational harm.

“It is hardly a secret that Facebook is being sued for alleged violations of the Biometric Information Privacy Act and that a jury trial has been set,” Donato wrote in his 4-page ruling.

Last week, Donato ordered Facebook to use emails, newsfeed posts and jewel notices, or Facebook alerts, to notify millions of Illinois Facebook users about the lawsuit by May 31. Facebook is accused of harvesting users’ facial data for its “Photo Tag Suggest” function without consent and in violation of a 2008 Illinois privacy law. A jury trial is set for July 9.

On Friday, Facebook filed an emergency petition with the Ninth Circuit to stay the case, arguing that unless the appeals court intervenes, it will incur high costs and “irreparable” reputational harm in notifying users about the suit.

The social network claims Donato erroneously interpreted Illinois law when he granted class certification in April and denied Faceook’s motion for summary judgment in May.

Facebook also argues that Donato is “prioritizing the July 9 trial date above the due process rights of Facebook and millions of absent class members.”

In his Monday ruling, Donato said Facebook “goes too far” in claiming that alerting users about the suit through its own network would cause “untoward embarrassment.”

“Many cases have held that a defendant’s online channels constitute the best practicable notice to individual class members,” Donato wrote.

The judge also rejected Facebook’s argument that the case should be stayed pending the outcome of its Ninth Circuit appeal challenging Donato’s decision to certify the class.

“Facebook has not proffered any evidence indicating that class members would be left in a state of disarray and befuddlement, as it suggests, if developments during trial or post-trial appellate review resulted in a change to or decertification of the class,” Donato wrote.

Donato noted in his conclusion that this case, which started in 2015, has already been heavily litigated with major pre-trial disputes resolved and discovery closed.

“The case is ripe for trial, and Facebook’s last-minute request to derail that is denied,” Donato wrote.

Class attorney Paul Geller, of Robbins Geller Rudman & Down in Boca Raton, Florida, said Facebook has commented repeatedly that it will “defend itself vigorously” against the lawsuit, “yet it continues to try to avoid doing just that through wasteful, repetitive efforts to stay the case or delay the trial.”

 

He added: “From our perspective, July 9 can’t come soon enough; we’re looking forward to standing in front of a jury, and Facebook can defend itself like it claims it wants to do.”

A Ninth Circuit panel is expected to rule on Facebook’s emergency motion to stay the case before the class notice deadline of May 31.

Facebook’s press team did not immediately return emails seeking comment Tuesday morning.

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