'Shine The Light' Lawsuit Against 'Men's Journal' Dismissed

by , Jun 21, 2012, 6:19 PM
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Handing Men's Journal a victory, a federal judge has dismissed a Web user's lawsuit alleging that the magazine violated a California law dealing with the sale of customer lists.

U.S. District Court Judge Dale Fischer in Los Angeles ruled that the consumer who sued, David Boorstein, couldn't proceed in federal court because he didn't adequately allege financial injury. The dismissal is without prejudice, meaning that Boorstein can revise his lawsuit and file it again.

Men's Journal was one of 10 magazines sued this year for allegedly failing to comply with California's "shine the light" law. The 2003 measure says companies selling customer lists must allow state residents to either opt out, or learn who is purchasing their names.

The "shine the light" law also specifies that businesses must provide contact information -- such as a toll-free number or street address -- for consumers who wish to learn who has purchased data about them.

Businesses with brick-and-mortar storefronts in the state can give consumers the contact information in person. But if companies that sell customer lists only have Web presences in the state, they must provide a link to a privacy policy on their home page; the first page of that link is supposed to contain a mailing address, e-mail address, toll-free telephone number, or fax number that consumers can use to discover who has bought their names.

The California law provides for damages of up to $3,000 per violation. But Fischer ruled that only consumers who have been "injured" by a violation of the law are entitled to sue for monetary damages. Boorstein unsuccessfully argued that he was harmed economically because information about him is in itself valuable.

But Fischer said in an opinion issued last week that the "shine the light" law doesn't prevent the magazine from selling data about Boorstein; rather, the law allows Boorstein to learn who has purchased information about him. Therefore, Fischer ruled, a violation of the law "does not reduce the value of plaintiff’s personal information.

Without financial injury, Boorstein lacks "standing" to sue in federal court, Fischer ruled.

Lawsuits are still pending in federal court in California against 10 other magazines and publishers, including Reader's Digest, CBS Interactive, XO Group, Eventful, and Skymall. Judges in seven of the lawsuits are considering whether to dismiss the cases.

The law firm Edelson McGuire represents Web users in all of the cases. Jay Edelson, a partner in the firm, says Boorstein will refile his case within two weeks.

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