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Biometric Privacy Legal Landscape Case Law Developments Class Action Litigation Defense Strategies

First Biometric Privacy Jury Trial Results in Massive $228 Million Dollar Verdict

Amanda M. Noonan |

A federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois conducted the first-ever jury trial in an Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) case. On October 12, 2022, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff—and more than 45,000 class members—regarding defendant BNSF Railway’s (“BNSF”) reckless violations of BIPA. See Rogers v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 1:19-cv-03083 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 12, 2022). Plaintiffs’ claims centered on BNSF’s collection of fingerprints to verify their identities and allow access to BNSF’s facilities without obtaining their written consent, as required under BIPA Section 15(b).

After a five-day trial—and only an hour of deliberations—the jury found BNSF not only violated BIPA 46,500 times, but did so intentionally or recklessly under 735 ILCS 14/20(2). The jury’s finding on that issue quintupled plaintiff’s damages award to $5,000 per violation, as opposed to $1,000 per negligent violation. As a result, District Judge Matthew Kennelly entered a $228 million dollar damages award in plaintiffs’ favor following the verdict. BNSF has stated it intends to appeal.

The implications of the verdict loom large. On the plaintiff’s side, counsel will likely increase the already large-scale BIPA filings and push for higher settlement amounts, using the prospect of a successful jury trial as a bargaining chip. Given the stakes, BIPA defendants may be more inclined to seek early resolution once named in a BIPA class action to avoid a bet-the-company litigation at all costs.

Considering the verdict, early compliance efforts by companies implementing biometric technology are even more crucial to avoid BIPA litigation in the first instance. Significantly, companies using any technology that could arguably constitute biometrics—regardless of the sophistication—may be targeted by zealous plaintiff’s attorneys seeking to join the ever-increasing cascade of BIPA class action filings. Biometrics privacy counsel should thus be consulted to address compliance strategies to protect against the catastrophic risks of a BIPA verdict at the earliest possible opportunity.

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Biometric Privacy Legal Landscape Case Law Developments

Q1 Biometric Privacy Litigation Update

Amanda M. Noonan |

In the first quarter of 2022, there have already been significant legal developments in the biometric technology space. Most notably, the Illinois Supreme Court—which has actively taken Illinois Biometric Privacy Act (“BIPA”) cases amid the surge of such class action litigation in federal and state courts—issued several consequential BIPA opinions this year. Though 2022’s most critical BIPA decisions are likely still on the horizon.

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Case Law Developments

Claim Accrual Ruling Could Bring Seismic Shift to Biometric Privacy Landscape in 2022

Amanda M. Noonan |

At the end of 2021, two developments laid the groundwork for a definitive resolution of one of the most significant, yet unsettled, issues under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”)—claim accrual. While all litigants would appreciate some certainty surrounding this hot-button issue, resolution of when a BIPA violation “accrues” (i.e., occurs) will have a seismic impact on the trajectory of all BIPA litigation for years to come—depending on how the Illinois Supreme Court rules in the coming term.

Watson and Cothron BIPA Decisions

In mid-December 2021, an Illinois appellate panel in Watson v. Legacy Healthcare Financial Services, LLC, held BIPA claims accrue each and every time a defendant captures biometric information in violation of the statute, as opposed to only accruing at the first instance of collection.

Just a few days after Watson, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Cothron v. White Castle System, Inc.—another appeal involving claim accrual. But rather than decide when a BIPA claim accrues, and after acknowledging the existence of Watson, the Cothron court certified the question to the Illinois Supreme Court to provide definitive guidance.

While neither Watson nor Cothron offers a conclusive answer, the issue is now teed up to be definitely decided by Illinois’ highest court.

Impact & Implications

The accrual date is a significant issue in BIPA class action litigation. Depending on the circumstances, accrual can serve as the basis for a statute of limitations defense, which, if successful, may require dismissal. But the issue is even more consequential in the context of damages and determining the overall value of a biometric privacy class action. If continuing BIPA violations constitute separate, independent claims, then the associated statutory negligent damages of $1,000 per violation (or $5,000 if intentional) could begin to compound. And because the law provides for liquidated damages for each violation, a ruling that claims accrue each time a defendant runs afoul of the law’s requirements could expand such liability exponentially.

Conclusion

Companies should pay close attention to how the Illinois Supreme Court decides the Cothron appeal, as the ruling could result in a drastic shift in the biometric privacy legal landscape. In the interim, companies should—with the assistance of experienced biometric privacy counsel—take the time to reassess their compliance with BIPA to ensure they are satisfying the full range of requirements to mitigate potential class action risk.

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Case Law Developments Class Action Litigation Defense Strategies

Designing a BIPA Defense: Biometric Manufacturer & Vendor Litigation Strategies

Amanda M. Noonan |

Class action litigation against biometric technology manufacturers and vendors is on the rise. Several courts have recognized the viability of such claims and held manufacturers/vendors may be subject to liability under Sections 15(b) and 15(d) of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”). 740 ILCS 14/15(b) & (d); Figueroa v. Kronos Inc., 454 F. Supp. 3d 772, 784-86 (N.D. Ill. 2020). The merits of these BIPA claims are yet undetermined. But the risk of having to defend such claims in state and federal courts is real and ongoing.

As the saying goes, the best defense is good offense. Rather than face uncertain liability, or incur exorbitant litigation defense costs, potential BIPA defendants often turn to arbitration provisions. For manufacturers/vendors of biometric technology, however, this approach may not be that simple.

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Case Law Developments

Illinois Appellate Court Clarifies Applicable Limitations Period in BIPA Class Action Litigation

David J. Oberly |

On September 17, 2021, the Illinois Appellate Court First District delivered its much-anticipated decision in Tims v. Black Horse Carriers, Inc., 2021 IL App (1st) 200563 (1st Dist. Sep. 17, 2021), addressing the applicable statute of limitations for causes of action asserted under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”).

The court held that claims brought under Sections 15(a), (b), and (e)—pertaining to the law’s privacy policy/data destruction, notice/consent, and data security requirements—are subject to a five-year statute of limitations. Conversely, claims asserted under Sections 15(c) and (d)—relating to the law’s ban on profiting from biometric data and disclosure limitations—are subject to a one-year limitations period.

Importantly, in finding that BIPA’s two most commonly asserted provisions, Sections 15(a) and (b), are subject to the longer five-year limitations period, the opinion ensures that the tsunami of class action BIPA filings will continue to flood the courts for the foreseeable future.