Tag Archives: Data breach

Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Employer Owes No Duty to Protect Employee Data

 Kelly WilliamsKelly A. Williams, a shareholder at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

In an apparent case of first impression, a divided three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that an employer does not owe a legal duty to its employees to protect the employees’ electronically stored personal and financial information.  In Dittman v. UPMC, decided on January 12, 2017 (docket no. 971 WDA 2015), the Superior Court affirmed an opinion of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, PA (opinion by the Honorable R. Stanton Wettick, Jr.), sustaining defendant University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (“UPMC”) preliminary objections to an employee class action suit.  The suit arose from a data breach of the employees’ personal information, which was provided to UPMC as a condition of employment.

The employees sued UPMC for negligence and breach of contract after their names, birth dates, social security numbers, tax information, addresses, salaries and bank information were stolen due to the data breach. Specifically, they alleged that UPMC failed to properly encrypt data, establish adequate firewalls and implement adequate authentication protocols to protect the information in its computer network.  All of UPMC’s 62,000 employees and former employees were affected by the breach.  Appellants consisted of two separate but overlapping classes.  One class alleged that the stolen information had already been used to file fraudulent tax returns and steal the tax refunds of certain employees.  The other class consisted of those who had not suffered this harm but alleged that they were at increased and imminent risk of becoming victims of identity theft crimes, fraud and abuse.

security-breach-image-2To determine whether a duty of care exists, the Pennsylvania courts look to five factors, none of which are determinative alone. Seebold v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 57 A.3d 1232, 1243 (Pa. 2012); Althaus ex. rel. Althaus v. Cohen, 756 A.2d 1166, 1169 (Pa. 2000).  The five factors are:

  1. the relationship between the parties;
  2. the social utility of the actor’s conduct;
  3. the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred;
  4. the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and
  5. the overall public interest in the proposed solution.

In Dittman, the court found that the first factor weighed in favor of finding a duty because the employer-employee relationship gives rise to duties on the employer.  The court next weighed the second factor against the third:  the need of employers to collect and store personal information about their employees against the risk of storing information electronically and the foreseeability of data breaches.  The court concluded:

While a data breach (and its ensuing harm) is generally foreseeable, we do not believe that this possibility outweighs the social utility of electronically storing employee information. In the modern era, more and more information is stored electronically and the days of keeping documents in file cabinets are long gone. Without doubt, employees and consumers alike derive substantial benefits from efficiencies resulting from the transfer and storage of electronic data. Although breaches of electronically stored data are a potential risk, this generalized risk does not outweigh the social utility of maintaining electronically stored information. We note here that Appellants do not allege that UPMC encountered a specific threat of intrusion into its computer systems.

Analysis of the fourth factor looks to the consequences of imposing a duty.  In this situation, the court considered that data breaches are widespread and that there is no safe harbor for entities storing confidential information.  It was also the court’s opinion that no judicially created duty of care is needed to incentivize companies to protect confidential employee information because other statutes and safeguards are in place to prevent employers from disclosing confidential information.  Thus, the court concluded that “it unnecessary to require employers to incur potentially significant costs to increase security measures when there is no true way to prevent data breaches altogether. Employers strive to run their businesses efficiently and they have an incentive to protect employee information and prevent these types of occurrences.”

Finally, the fifth factor looks to whether there is a public interest in imposing a duty.  The Superior Court found persuasive the reasoning of the trial court that imposing a duty here would greatly expend judicial resources and would result in judicial activism.  The Superior Court agreed with the trial court that the Pennsylvania legislature has considered the same issues and chose only to impose a duty of notification of a data breach.  “It is not for the courts to alter the direction of the General Assembly because public policy is a matter for the legislature.”

Weighing all five factors, the court held that the factors weighed against imposing a duty.  Judge Stabile filed a concurring opinion, which Judge Olson, the writer for the majority opinion, joined.  Judge Stabile agreed with the ruling but emphasized that the law in this area is quickly changing and that the ruling was based on the facts pled in that particular case.  One of the key facts for Judge Stabile was the fact that the employees had not alleged that UPMC was on notice of any specific security threat.  In a dissenting opinion, Judge Musmanno concluded that  allegations that UPMC failed to properly encrypt data, establish adequate fire walls and implement appropriate authentication protocols was sufficient to allege that UPMC knew or should have known that there was a likelihood data would be stolen.  Judge Musmanno also disagreed with the majority’s assumption that employers are sufficiently incentivized to protect employee data without a duty imposed upon them to do so.

The employees filed a motion for reconsideration and reargument on January 26, 2017.  Thus, the Superior Court’s January 2017 opinion may not be the final word on the issue.

security-breach-imageDittman is interesting in the world of data breach lawsuits because it does not address standing.  Many data breach defendants have relied upon the theory that plaintiffs lack standing to bring claims for data breaches where plaintiffs cannot prove actual harm from the breach.  Proof of actual harm can be challenging because evidence regarding the use of the stolen information may be difficult to find.  Here, standing was not discussed by the Superior Court.  In the trial court below, UPMC had argued that the claims against it should be dismissed on the grounds that the employees lacked standing to assert claims on behalf of employees who had not yet been injured.  UPMC also asserted that the employees’ negligence and breach of implied contract claims failed as a matter of law.  After oral argument on these issues, the trial court ordered both parties to file supplemental briefs on the issue of whether UPMC owed a duty to its employees with respect to the handling of their personal and financial data.  This ultimately proved to be the issue that the trial court and the Superior Court found to be determinative.

The Dittman v. UPMC opinion may be found at:  http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17833965968674892500&q=dittman+v.+upmc&hl=en&as_sdt=6,39&as_vis=1.

DTSA Cases Being Filed: Defend Trade Secrets Act 2016

Posted by: DTSALAW.Com and DefendTradeSecretsAct.Lawyer Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN® and PSMNLaw®). Mr. Sneath is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law teaching Trade Secret Law, Trademark Law and the Law of Unfair Competition. He may be contacted at hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013. See Websites www.psmn.com or www.DTSALaw.com.

The new DTSA federal civil remedy statute is already generating lawsuits being filed in Federal Courts. Two suits were recently filed in the Southern District of Florida with jurisdiction being claimed pursuant to the Defend Trade Secrets Act 2016 (DTSA). One case was also filed in the Northern District of Texas. See links to the cases below. In each Florida case, the plaintiff not only claimed trade secret misappropriation under the DTSA, but also under the Florida UTSA state statute (FUTSA). The Texas case brings claims under DTSA and the TUTSA along with pendent state law claims. This may become the trend as the DTSA and state statutes modeled after the Uniform Trade Secret Act describe trade secrets and misappropriation somewhat differently and provide, in some cases, different remedies. The differences in “definitions” between DTSA and the UTSA are not major, but they may make a difference if either is left out of a complaint filed in federal court.  We will monitor this trend and post in the future on new filings.

Interestingly, while both Florida cases seek injunctive relief in the complaint’s claims for relief, neither docket shows the filing of a separate Motion for TRO, Preliminary Injunction or motion for other injunctive relief. The Dean case brings only trade secret misappropriation claims under the DTSA and the FUTSA state statute. The Bonamar case brings claims under DTSA and FUTSA and a number of pendent State Law claims that you would expect to see in an employment related, non-disclosure, breach of covenants/contract case. In the Texas case, the plaintiff has filed an emergency motion for TRO under both state and federal law and a hearing is set for May 26, 2016. The motion and brief are linked below. Here are links to the cases on our website.

Florida Cases: Bonamar v. Turkin and Supreme Crab ; Dean V. City of Miami Beach et al

Texas Case: UPS v. Thornburg (Complaint) ; UPS v. Thornburg (Emergency Motion for TRO) ; UPS v. Thornburg (Brief in Support of Motion for TRO)

Sneath, Henry 2012 headshot

Henry M. Sneath, Esq. 412-288-4013 hsneath@psmn.com

Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) Seminar in Pittsburgh Jun 22, 2016

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN® and PSMNLaw®). Mr. Sneath is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law teaching Trade Secret Law, Trademark Law and the Law of Unfair Competition. He may be contacted at hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013. Website www.psmn.com or www.psmn.law

See copy of my Tweet from earlier today: “I’m pleased to be a part of the Federal Bar Association seminar set for Pittsburgh on the new Defend Trade Secrets Act  https://twitter.com/hashtag/DTSA?src=hash   on June 22, 2016. Co-Hosted by the Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Law Association (PIPLA) and the Duquesne University School of Law, where I teach Trade Secret Law as an adjunct Professor of Law. Register at FBA link: http://tinyurl.com/gm8nudj and see my Tweet at
https://twitter.com/PicadioSneath/status/730450574148149248
This is biggest Federal expansion of  #IP  Law since the Lanham Act and when signed by the President (today it appears) – it will provide immediate jurisdiction for  #tradesecret  actions in Federal Court.”

Big IP NEWS: Defend Trade Secrets Act 2016 (DTSA) Passes Congress – President to sign

EnrolledTitle_114Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN® and PSMNLaw®). Mr. Sneath is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law teaching Trade Secret Law, Trademark Law and the Law of Unfair Competition. He may be contacted at hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013. Website www.psmn.com or www.psmn.law

The US Congress has passed the landmark Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) and it is set for the President’s signature. It will soon be law. See Link to DTSA Legislation here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1890/text    Trade Secret law has long been the province of the States, more or less exclusively, and except for criminal protections against trade secret theft and economic espionage, there has been no Federal civil law providing a federal damages remedy for such theft.  Amended will be Crimes and Criminal Procedures – Title 18, Chapter 90, Section 1836 and the key provision is as follows:

“(1) IN GENERAL.—An owner of a trade secret that is misappropriated may bring a civil action under this subsection if the trade secret is related to a product or service used in, or intended for use in, interstate or foreign commerce.”

Congress has now added a civil remedy provision to Federal protection of Trade Secrets wherein prior Federal law only provided criminal sanctions. This has been described as a major new development in Federal IP law and will provide federal jurisdiction for Trade Secret Misappropriation cases. The law will NOT preempt nor change State laws and therefore actions will be brought in both federal and state court jurisdictions. Most states (48) have adopted a form of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) and actions can still be brought under those state statutes, but those statutes vary to some degree. The DTSA is very similar to the UTSA based state court statutes, but there will be differences depending on the state jurisdiction from which cases are brought or removed. DTSA will apply to any acts of trade secret misappropriation that take place AFTER the act is signed into law (not retroactive). The Statute of Limitations will be 3 years according to the actual text linked above, but some commentators have stated that it is 5 years (we will need to check to get accurate information on the SOL and will follow up).

The DTSA contains an important and somewhat controversial “Civil Seizure” provision which renders it different from most state laws and which reads:

“(i) APPLICATION.—Based on an affidavit or verified complaint satisfying the requirements of this paragraph, the court may, upon ex parte application but only in extraordinary circumstances, issue an order providing for the seizure of property necessary to prevent the propagation or dissemination of the trade secret that is the subject of the action.”

This provision is controversial because it can be ordered by a court ex-parte. By amendment, the words “but only in extraordinary circumstances” were added to attempt to mollify some critics of this provision. However, there are some strict limitations to the ex-parte injunctions and a couple of them are below:

“(ii) REQUIREMENTS FOR ISSUING ORDER.—The court may not grant an application under clause (i) unless the court finds that it clearly appears from specific facts that—

“(I) an order issued pursuant to Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or another form of equitable relief would be inadequate to achieve the purpose of this paragraph because the party to which the order would be issued would evade, avoid, or otherwise not comply with such an order;

“(II) an immediate and irreparable injury will occur if such seizure is not ordered.”

Such ex-parte injunctions must be very specific and the court must go to great lengths not to overreach or to punish through publicity an accused wrongdoer during the period of seizure. There are other typical requirements for injunctions like posting of security and careful management of the seized materials, and the accused wrongdoer has a right of action back against the claimant if the seizure turns out to be wrongful or excessive.

In an action for misappropriation, a court may order injunctive relief and may

“(B) award—

“(i) (I) damages for actual loss caused by the misappropriation of the trade secret; and

“(II) damages for any unjust enrichment caused by the misappropriation of the trade secret that is not addressed in computing damages for actual loss; or

“(ii) in lieu of damages measured by any other methods, the damages caused by the misappropriation measured by imposition of liability for a reasonable royalty for the misappropriator’s unauthorized disclosure or use of the trade secret;

“(C) if the trade secret is willfully and maliciously misappropriated, award exemplary damages in an amount not more than 2 times the amount of the damages awarded under subparagraph (B); and

“(D) if a claim of the misappropriation is made in bad faith, which may be established by circumstantial evidence, a motion to terminate an injunction is made or opposed in bad faith, or the trade secret was willfully and maliciously misappropriated, award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party.”

It is unclear as to how this bill will be enforced against foreign Trade Secret theft, or if there will even be jurisdiction under this act for such claims. We will follow up on that issue in future posts. See the Senate and House reports below which contain a substantial amount of background legislative history and commentary. Contact us for additional information. We will continue to study this new law and report to our readers.

Here is a link to the US Senate report on the bill: https://www.congress.gov/congressional-report/114th-congress/senate-report/220/1

Here is a link to the US House report on the bill: https://www.congress.gov/congressional-report/114th-congress/house-report/529/1

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Henry M. Sneath, Esquire – 412-288-4013 or hsneath@psmn.com

Follow me on Twitter @picadiosneath and on Google+: http://tinyurl.com/ktfwrah

 

 

Pittsburgh Court Rules on Data Breach Class Claims – Denying Cause of Action

Posted By Henry M. Sneath, Chair of the Cybersecurity and Data Breach Prevention and Response Team at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

537047_70437721A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Judge has ruled at the trial court level that there is no private cause of action for the alleged failure of a major hospital network to secure and protect PII and PHI. Denying Class claims, Judge Wettick has ruled that because the legislature has not created such a right, that only the Pennsylvania Attorney General has the right to bring a claim in this circumstance. See the Legal Intelligencer article here: http://tinyurl.com/nphostc  We will get more details on this case and pass them along with our analysis.

Business Leaders Rank Cyber Risk #2 on List of Main Concerns

Posted By Henry M. Sneath, Chair of the Cybersecurity and Data Breach Prevention and Response Team at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

Travelers Business Risk ImageTravelers Indemnity and Insurance released its annual Business Risk Index, which is a survey of the concerns of business leaders and decision makers. Not surprisingly, for 2015, Cyber Risk moved up to the number 2 concern on that list, right behind rising healthcare costs. In some industry sectors it is the number 1 concern. The Banking and Financial Services, Professional Services, and Technology sectors each ranked cyber risks as the main driver of sleepless nights.  The chart on page 3 of the survey is very instructional as to the different concerns between small, medium and large businesses. Small businesses have less concern about data breach than larger businesses, but perhaps small businesses are overlooking their vulnerability and attractiveness as targets. If they care less, they will likely protect less, and become easy targets for hackers. It should be a huge concern for all businesses in all industries as no one appears immune. If you data store or deal in Personal Identifiable Information (PII) or Personal Health Information (PHI) as part of your business, then you are a valuable target. If you have financial or credit information, or trade secrets to protect, then perhaps your competitors, foreign governments and political hackers want to look inside your data. Many insurers are now offering Cyber Risk Insurance to provide defense and indemnity against these risks. Every business should have a data breach prevention and response team of employees and outside consultants and lawyers to audit the company’s vulnerability and to set the plan for a response when a breach occurs.  See the complete Travelers Business Risk Index at: https://www.travelers.com/prepare-prevent/risk-index/business/index.aspx

Target Agrees to Settle Class Claims Over 2013 Data Breach for $10M

Posted By Henry M. Sneath, Chair of the Cybersecurity and Data Breach Prevention and Response Team at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

Data Breach broken_security_lock photo Target Corp. agrees to settle the 2013 data breach class claims prior to argument on class certification. Lead plaintiff’s counsel admitted the uphill battle he faced to obtain class certification due primarily to the difficulty in these consumer data breach cases of proving commonality of claims. This settlement, which still needs court approval for its proposed $10M payout, will not settle claims by commercial entities, but only individual consumer claims. Here is a good article with more detail from the National Law Journal. We will continue to follow this settlement and the handling of the commercial claims as this blog increases our focus on Cybersecurity and Data Breach Prevention and Response issues.

See this link to the NLJ for more info:  http://tinyurl.com/kxwjrb9

 

 

3rd Circuit Hears Argument on Cybersecurity Issue Regarding Data Breaches of Consumer Information

by: Kelly A. Williams, a shareholder at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

ComputerOn March 3, 2015, the Third Circuit heard oral argument in FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp. (No. 14-3514) on the novel issue of whether or not the Federal Trade Commission can sue a company for failing to properly secure consumer data. The case arose when the FTC sued Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, after Russian hackers broke into the Wyndham’s computer network and stole the credit card information for thousands of customers. The FTC filed the suit based on its authority under federal law to patrol unfair business practices. The Wyndham Hotel contends that its cybersecurity system is outside the realm of the FTC’s authority and that the FTC had not given notice about what the law would require with regard to corporate data security practices. The case reached the Third Circuit after the District for New Jersey denied the Wyndham’s motion to dismiss, and the Wyndham filed an interlocutory appeal. The panel’s, consisting of Judge Thomas Ambro and Senior Judges Anthony Scirica and Jane Roth, interest in the novel issue was apparent from the fact that oral argument lasted twice as long as the allotted time and the Court requested supplemental briefing.

See this article for additional information (subscription required). A recording of the oral argument can be found here at the 3rd Circuit’s website.