I’ve Been Hacked. Have I Been Damaged?

Pleading computer fraud damages

Written by Keenan W. Ng

Plaintiffs seem to have difficulty pleading damages related to computer fraud violations, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. §1030), the Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. § 2701), the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (18 U.S.C. § 2501), and the California Computer Data Access and Fraud Act (Cal. Penal Code § 502). While litigants simply seem confused as to what they are allowed to ask for, pleading damages is a fairly straightforward process as most courts interpret the requisite sections by their plain meaning.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The CFAA does not allow for traditional compensatory damages. Rather, the statute allows for the recovery of loss and damage as defined by the statute.

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Where Can I Sue An App?

Written by Michael S. Dorsi

Smartphone applications, or apps, control an increasing share of internet traffic, and also an increasing share of litigation. Disputes about apps range from copyright infringement to contract disputes. But unlike car accidents or real estate disputes, there is no physical place where the wrongdoing happened. So where to sue? Where is the App Store? California?

The Rules of Jurisdiction

A person may only be sued either where the person is, or where the person may reasonably be called into court.[1] In the case of disputes concerning a specific product or service, the court will need to be satisfied that:

  1. The defendant has purposefully directed activities at the forum state,
  2. The plaintiff’s claim arises out of or relates to those activities, and
  3. The assertion of personal jurisdiction is reasonable and fair.[2]

What About The Internet?

The expanded use of the internet in the mid-1990s forced courts to examine this test in a new light. Concerning the first part of the test — purposeful direction — a federal court in Pennsylvania set out the rule, known as the Zippo test, that has been adopted in most of the country: websites fall along a sliding scale, with websites that engaged in commercial interactions at end of the scale toward finding jurisdiction, and websites that did not interact with their users at all, just showing a page, at the other.[3] Many other courts adopted the sliding scale from Zippo.[4]

Are Apps Like Websites?

Courts have not yet clearly stated whether Apps will be treated like websites. Two cases show potentially different outcomes with Apps based on being filed in different districts. In Intercarrier Communs. LLC v. WhatsApp Inc.,[5] a federal court in Virginia found that customers using WhatsApp — an instant messenger application — was insufficient to find jurisdiction. Of note, WhatsApp users did not make purchases through WhatsApp, but paid third parties such as Apple and those third parties delivered the app to the user’s phone.

But in Zherebko v. Reutskyy,[6] a federal court in California concluded that an interactive app — in that case a game that sold hints to players — satisfied the first part of the personal jurisdiction test because, under the sliding scale from Zippo, the app was commercially interactive.

The court also found that the second part — the relation to activities in the forum state — was satisfied because according to Apple’s terms and conditions, title to the app transfers electronically through Apple in California.

Although the court concluded that the case did not satisfy the third part of the test — jurisdiction was not reasonable because none of the parties were from California — the court’s analysis indicated that California will be an one of the best places bring cases about iPhone apps, and future courts may reach a similar conclusion about Android apps. In effect, a plaintiff suing about a smartphone app may only need to prove the third part of the test in order to establish jurisdiction in California.

[1] See International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 320 (1945).

[2] See Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472-77 (1985).

[3] See Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997).

[4] See Cybersell, Inc. v. Cybersell, Inc., 130 F.3d 414, 419 (9th Cir. 1997).

[5] Intercarrier Communs. LLC v. WhatsApp Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131318 (E.D. Va. Sept. 12, 2013), available at https://casetext.com/case/intercarrier-commcns-llc-v-whatsapp-inc.

[6] Zherebko v. Reutskyy, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113493 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 12, 2013), available at https://cases.justia.com/federal/district-courts/california/candce/3:2013cv00843/263828/31/0.pdf?ts=1377209210.

Is Leap Vulnerable to Disability Access Lawsuits?


Written by Michael S. Dorsi

Leap, a new comfortable-looking private bus service in San Francisco, recently came under scrutiny for removing wheelchair accessibility equipment from buses it purchased and retrofitted. Chris Pangilinan, a former San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency engineer, recently filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging that Leap violated the  Americans with Disabilities Act.

President George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.

If anything, it is surprising that Leap has not already been sued. Hotel and restaurant owners in California are often familiar with so-called “serial plaintiffs  who bring hundreds— sometimes thousands — of disability access lawsuits. They keep doing so because the law favors their cases.

A person harmed by a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act may sue under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.[1] Successful plaintiffs are awarded damages of triple the harm suffered, no less than $4000, plus mandatory attorneys’ fees.[2] Attorneys’ fees are only available to plaintiffs; defendants may not recover their fees even if they win a defense verdict.[3] The damages and fees rules create a strong incentive for defendants to quickly settle their cases and remedy any conditions that do not conform to ADA rules.

California State Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh, after whom the Unruh Civil Rights Act is named, with Willie Brown, who would go on to serve as Assembly Speaker after Unruh’s retirement.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act does require that the plaintiff be directly harmed.[4] Mr. Pangilinan, who now works in New York, may not be directly harmed, but there are likely other potential plaintiffs. Leap may have defenses, but defending an Unruh Civil Rights Act case is difficult, costly, and risky.

*Mr. Dorsi is an attorney with Ad Astra Law Group, who has represented plaintiffs and defendants in fee-shifting litigation under public interest statutes, including disability access litigation the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

[1] Cal. Civil Code § 51(f).

[2] Cal. Civil Code § 52(a).

[3] Turner v. Association of American Medical Colleges, 193 Cal.App. 4th 1047, 1060 (2011).

[4] Surrey v. TrueBeginnings, LLC, 168 Cal. App. 4th 414, 420 (2008).