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Class Action and the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act

Class certification can be a complicated issue that does not just rely on fulfilling the usual requirements. For example, in Gass v Best Buy Co., Inc., an issue of fact had to be determined in order to confirm the class action certification.

What was the court’s decision in Gass v. Best Buy Co., Inc.?

Gass v. Best Buy Co., Inc. was a class action that failed due to the way plaintiffs’ claim was brought.  In this case, multiple parties brought separate lawsuits against Best Buy claiming that its practices were against the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act. The claimants then merged their claims. The “class” claimed to be representing [a]ll persons from whom Defendant requested and recorded personal identification information in conjunction with a credit card transaction… and a subclass of those who were asked for their information relating to the pre-enrollment . . . in Defendant’s Reward Zone program in conjunction with a credit card transaction.” The Song-Beverly Credit Card Act says that companies may not request or require, as a condition to accepting the credit card, the cardholder to provide personal identification information. The practices in question were: (1) when employees asked customers for additional information if they agreed to be in the Rewards program; (2) when customers were asked for their phone number if they forgot their member cards; and (3) if a card failed to swipe on a charge over $100, the customer would be asked for a zip code in order to look up his/her information. First, the court determined that these requests for identification were not illegal. Second, since the requests for information were not a violation, the court ruled that plaintiffs could not be certified as a class. This was because the definition of those affected was overbroad and included customers who may not have suffered any violation. The court ruled that, if the plaintiffs wished to pursue a specific violation, each could proceed individually.

Does the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act apply to online transactions?

Although, the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act applies to in-store purchases, however, two cases have made it clear that it does not apply to online transactions. The court in Apple v. Superior Court concluded that the statute does not apply to online transactions that involve downloading information. The goal to prevent online fraud was a greater concern than consumer privacy. The case of Michael Ambers v. Beverages & More, Inc. took the protection of online companies further, allowing personal questions to be requested for online transactions even when the individual is picking up an ordered product online. The reasoning was that once the card is charged, the product is no longer the store’s to withhold until receiving further confirmation of the cardholder’s identity.

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