A Madison County minor’s suit that accuses Google and Viacom of violating privacy rights by tracking Internet activity has been transferred to federal court in New Jersey.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) last week issued an order transferring the Madison County minor's class action suit, as well as five others, to the District of New Jersey, where U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler will preside over the matter.
In its order, the panel noted that all six suits “are putative nationwide class actions against Viacom and Google arising from allegations that they violated the privacy rights of children under the age of thirteen who visited three websites—www.nick.com, www.nickjr.com, and www.neopets.com—operated by Viacom.”
“More specifically,” the panel added, “plaintiffs allege that defendants surreptitiously collected information concerning the internet activity of minor visitors to the websites for use in targeted advertising.”
Given that all six suits involve common questions of fact, the panel wrote in its order that centralization is appropriate and “consistent with our recent decisions involving the allegedly unlawful tracking of individuals’ internet activity.”
The six suits included in the JPML’s transfer order come from federal courts in California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The Illinois suit was filed in December 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois by T.M. as next of friend to R.M., a Madison County minor under the age of 13.
T.M.’s suit accuses Google and Viacom of violating federal wiretap and video privacy laws, the Illinois Eavesdropping Act and makes claims for intrusion upon seclusion and unjust enrichment.
Google, according to the suit, placed cookies on R.M.’s computer after visiting three Viacom-operated websites targeted at children: www.nick.com; nickjr.com; and neopets.com.
R.M. is a registered user, created a profile and requested video materials on these websites, the suit states, noting that Viacom knowingly permits Google to place this “doubleclick.net cookie named ‘id’” on minors’ computers.
The suit asserts that the cookie Google allegedly placed on R.M.’s computer tracked the minor’s communications to those and other websites. It also claims that once the defendants obtained this information, they conspired to make a profit through targeted Internet marketing directed at R.M.
T.M.’s suit proposes a class that would include all U.S. minors under 13 who accessed the trio of websites and who had tracking cookies placed on their computers by the defendants.
When it comes to damages, T.M. contends that the defendants are liable to class members in the sum of $100 for each day each member’s data was illegally obtained or $10,000 per violation, as well punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, and other costs.
The suit also seeks damages of not less than $2,500 per plaintiff, as well as other damages and relief, for the defendants’ alleged violation of the Video Privacy Act.
Mark C. Goldenberg, Kevin Paul Green and Thomas P. Rosenfeld of Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland in Edwardsville filed the suit on T.M.’s behalf.
Court records show that Washington attorney John C. Roberts represents Google and California attorney Gail Lees represents Viacom in the Illinois suit.
No filings have been submitted in T.M’s suit since last month, when U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert granted the plaintiff’s motion to stay proceedings pending the outcome of the motion to consolidate before the JMPL.
According to the JMPL order, all of the parties in the six suits agreed centralization was appropriate, but disagreed as to the transfer district.
The defendants, the order states, supported centralization in New Jersey while all of the plaintiffs wanted the matter to be transferred to the Northern District of California.
The JMPL wrote in its order that it was persuaded to go with New Jersey’s federal court because it “is a convenient and accessible forum, relatively close to potential witnesses and evidence located in New Jersey and New York City.”
In addition, the panel noted that New Jersey’s federal court “has the resources and capacity to efficiently handle this litigation” and is home to Chesler, “an able jurist with prior MDL experience.”
The multi-district litigation against Google and Viacom is In re: Nickelodeon Consumer Privacy Litigation, MDL No. 2443.