Where plaintiff’s alleged injury under Sec. 15(b) of BIPA satisfied the requirements for standing under Article III.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a decision by Judge Virginia M. Kendall, Northern District of Illinois.

Christine Bryant worked for a call center in Illinois. As a convenience for its employees, the center had a workplace cafeteria, in which it had installed Smart Market vending machines owned and operated by Compass Group USA, Inc. The machines did not accept cash, rather a user had to establish an account using their fingerprint. During her orientation, Bryant and her coworkers were instructed by their employer to scan their fingerprints into the smart market system and establish a payment link to create user accounts. Once their accounts were active, employees could purchase items and add money to their balance using just their fingerprints. The employees fingerprints qualified as “biometric identifiers” within the meaning of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

In violation of Sec. 15(a) of BIPA, Compass never made publicly available a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying the biometric identifiers and information it was collecting and storing. In addition Compass also never informed Bryant in writing that her biometric identifier was being collected and stored, informed Bryant in writing of the specific purpose and length of term for which her fingerprint was being collected, stored and used, or obtained Bryant’s written release to collect, store and use her fingerprint.

In August 2019, Bryant brought a putative class action against Compass in Cook County Circuit Court, pursuant to BIPA’s provision providing a private right of action in state court. Compass removed the action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act on the basis of diversity of citizenship and an amount in controversy in excess of $5 million. Bryant moved to remand and the district court agreed, sending the case back to state court. Compass petitioned the 7th Circuit for permission to appeal and the 7th Circuit accepted the appeal.

The appellate panel began by noting that in the instant case Bryant was the party arguing that she lacked Article III standing, rather than Compass. Citing Hunter v. Automated Health Sys., Inc. the panel stated that the majority of districts in the 7th Circuit had rejected standing for plaintiffs alleging only violations of Sec. 15(a) and 15(b) of BIPA, without some further harm. Applying Spokeo, Inc. v. Robbins, the panel noted that Justice Thomas joined the majority opinion in Spokeo but added a concurrence that drew a useful distinction between two types of injuries: injuries that represented a violation of a plaintiff’s own rights, and those that represented a plaintiff’s attempt to vindicate public rights. The panel determined that, under this rubric, Bryant’s alleged injury qualified as an allegation of a violation of Bryant’s personal rights, and therefore satisfied the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III.

Finally, however, the panel determined that Bryant did not suffer a concrete and particularized injury as a result of Compass’ violation of Sec. 15(a). The panel stated that the duty disclose under Sec. 15(a) is owed to the public generally, not to particular persons whose biometric information the entity collects. Therefore, the panel reasoned, Bryant did not suffer a concrete and particularized injury under Sec. 15(a), and the federal courts lacked authority to hear her claim under this section. The panel therefore reversed the decision of the district court and remanded the action to the district court for further proceedings.

Christine Bryant v. Compass Group USA, Inc.
No. 20-1443
Writing for the court: Chief Judge Diane P. Wood
Concurring: Judges Kenneth Ripple and Ilana Diamond Rovner
Released: May 5, 2020