Class Action Defense Cases– Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma: California Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal Of Song-Beverly Class Action Holding Zip Codes Not “Personal Identification Information” Under The Act

Nov 9, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Alleging Violations of California’s Song-Beverly Act Properly Dismissed because Zip Codes are not “Personal Identification Information” Within the Meaning of the Statute California Appellate Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Williams-Sonoma alleging inter alia violations of California’s “Song-Beverly” Act, which “prohibits merchants that accept credit cards in transacting business from requesting and recording ‘personal identification information’ concerning the cardholder.” Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores, Inc., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Cal.App. October 23, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, defendant “requested and recorded the customer’s zip code for the purpose of using it and the customer’s name to obtain the customer’s address through the use of a ‘reverse search’ database.” Id., at 1-2. Specifically, as part of plaintiff’s credit card purchase, Williams-Sonoma requested her zip code, and used it (in combination with her name) to perform a reverse-search, from which it obtained her residential mailing address. Id., at 2. Defense attorneys demurred to the class action on the grounds that “a zip code is not ‘personal identification information’” within the meaning of Song-Beverly. Id., at 3. (We do not here discuss the other causes of action.) The trial court agreed and dismissed the class action. Id. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

The Court of Appeal did not spend an excessive amount of time analyzing the issue before it, as it is quite straight-forward and, in the author’s view, governed by existing case law. See Party City Corp. v. Superior Court, 169 Cal.App.4th 497 (Cal.App. 2008) (concluding zip codes are not “personal identification information” under Song-Beverly). After summarizing Song-Beverly, see Pineda, at 4, the appellate court followed Party City. The Court rejected plaintiff’s argument that Party City was distinguishable on the ground that, in that case, there was no evidence that the merchant actually used the zip code to perform a reverse search, id., at 5-6. The Court of Appeal concluded, “Simply put, the Act either allows a retailer to ask customers for a zip code or it prohibits this conduct. The Party City court concluded, and we agree, that the Act does not prohibit this conduct.” Id., at 6. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the class action. Id., at 9.

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