A California federal judge has certified a class including multitudes of email users nationwide in a privacy action that claims Yahoo Inc. violates federal law by scanning emails sent to Yahoo subscribers.
The court also created a subclass for Californians raising state law claims.
U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh granted the motion of plaintiffs to certify a class of email users who are not Yahoo subscribers and who have emailed a Yahoo address since October 2011 for its claim under the Stored Communications Act. The judge denied their request to allow the entire class to sue under California’s Invasion of Privacy Act but granted their alternate request for a subclass of Californians who aren’t Yahoo users but who emailed users after October 2012.
The plaintiffs say in the complaint seeking injunctive relief that they do not subscribe to Yahoo Mail but send emails to those who do. The named plaintiffs allege that Yahoo illegally intercepts their messages while in transit, scans and analyzes the content and shares it with third parties in order to target ads to Yahoo Mail users. They argue that, unlike subscribers, they have not given Yahoo this type of consent.
Yahoo had argued that the class lacked cohesiveness because some of those who emailed Yahoo users may have given their express or implied consent by emailing Yahoo users after learning of its scanning practices.
“Yahoo may well be correct that some class members do not have viable SCA or CIPA claims because they consented to Yahoo’s conduct,” the court said. “That does not, however, vitiate the operative fact that the proposed Rule 23(b)(2) class challenges Yahoo’s uniform policy of intercepting, scanning and using contents of emails sent to and from Yahoo Mail subscribers by non-Yahoo Mail subscribers.”
The court said that though a nationwide class was appropriate for the SCA claims, it would not be cohesive for the CIPA claims because each claim by a resident of another state would be governed by that state’s wiretap laws, giving rise to diverse legal issues. “These different legal issues eclipse any common issues of law that exist,” Judge Koh wrote.
Yahoo had argued that the class lacks standing to seek injunctive relief because they have become aware of Yahoo’s practices and could avoid emailing Yahoo Mail accounts.
The judge found Yahoo’s argument unconvincing, saying that if a plaintiff bringing a consumer protection claim had to forgo ever using the allegedly harmful product again, the plaintiff would not be able to show a threat of future harm and therefore lose standing.
The case is Holland et al. v. Yahoo Inc., number 5:13-cv-04980, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.